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Ijsbrand Chardon of the Netherlands grabbed a thrilling victory in FEI World Cup™ Driving at Olympia, besting his rival Boyd Exell of Australia with a time of 128.22 seconds and a beautifully clear run.
Chardon, a champion many times over whose son Bram also competes on the FEI World Cup™ circuit, made it to the drive-off of three top drivers with an initial time of 133.16 seconds and no penalty seconds. His second run through the demanding course in the drive off showed he can bring the pressure to defending champion Exell, finding six seconds over his first run and whipping the crowd to a frenzy of excitement.
The Olympia course was designed by Johan Jacobs and featured seven pairs of cones, a bridge, and two sets of marathon obstacles made to look like wrapped Christmas packages for this traditional London prelude to the holiday season. With tight loops that offered several pattern options for the drivers, it was a deceptively simple course that actually required highly technical driving.
Competing last in the drive off after his first time of 125.23 and a clear, super fast run, Exell got off to a flying start, but with the pressure on from Chardon, wound up accruing 20 penalty seconds − a rarity for the Australian champion − who would have to settle for a third-place finish at Olympia.
Second place went to Belgian Glenn Geerts, another of the world’s best drivers, who rollicked through his first run with no penalty seconds and a time of 135.79. While he was faster through the course in the drive off, five penalty seconds at the end gave him a total time of 137.94.
Finishing just behind Chardon and ahead of Exell will most certainly give Geerts a boost going into the next round of competition heading to the finals in Bordeaux in February.
The door to the drive-off was closed by Geerts to Koos De Ronde of the Netherlands, who finished fourth with a time of 137.76 and a clear run − the first of the event. De Ronde used a tactical approach to shave seconds off the course, cranking out tough 360-degree turns, his backstepper and navigator hanging perilously off the back of the carriage.
Benjamin Aillaud of France picked up fifth place, flying through the course and picking up only five penalty seconds for a time of 148.40.
Sixth place fell to American Chester Weber, who drove the course for a time of 151.30 and 10 penalty seconds. Weber, who has newly assembled a special team of both horses and humans to accommodate the tighter turns and smaller area of indoor driving, has qualified for the FEI World Cup™ multiple times as US champion but only joins the circuit for the first time this season.
Rounding out the competition in seventh place and a time of 164.15 was Great Britain’s home favourite Daniel Naprous, competing as a wildcard entry. As such, Naprous had no opportunity to pick up FEI World Cup™ points, but wanted to show the crowd what local drivers can bring to the competition.
Naprous is well known for his stunt horses, having appeared in many James Bond and Harry Potter films, and his team, outfitted with festive bright green ear bonnets and bell boots, showed that they were up to the task. Were it not for a pause to reset cones at six, which contributed to 25 penalty points for him, Naprous would have secured a time competitive with the world’s best.
Olympia represents the fifth leg of this season’s FEI World Cup™ competition, with events in Mechelen at the end of December and Leipzig in January before Bordeaux. While Exell has taken several previous legs, Chardon’s win in London and De Ronde’s first in Budapest means the championship is still anyone’s to win.
Text by Patricia Salem
Pictures by Kit Houghton/Horsepower