The seventh season of the FEI World Cup™ Driving is about to start. After a long outdoor season, which started in Ocala, Florida (USA) in March and ended in Deauville, France, in September, the ten most successful four-in-hand drivers have now qualified for the prestigious indoor series.
This year, the team drivers were able to accumulate points at 13 international combined driving events in seven European countries and one in the United States of America. Extra bonus points could be won at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, and at the last CAI-A in Deauville, which was run according to an exciting new competition format. Although some countries hosted more than two qualifying competitions, this years' rules included the constriction that the best results of a maximum of two competitions in one country could count for the FEI World Cup™ Driving qualification.
This seventh indoor season consists of five competitions plus the Final. The Top Five four-in-hand drivers of the standings after the last qualifying competition in Deauville will compete in three competitions of which the best two results count to qualify for the Final. The Top Six to Ten compete in two competitions.
The FEI World Cup™ Driving season 2007/2008 starts in Hannover, Germany, on 27 October. Hannover has been part of the FEI World Cup™ Driving series since the 2004/2005 season. The season continues in Stuttgart in the South of Germany. The international horse show in the Schleyer Halle has a long history in indoor carriage driving. It was in fact Stuttgart that introduced indoor carriage driving for the first time in 1994 and has been part of the FEI World Cup™ Driving series from the start in 2001.
After Stuttgart, the series moves on to Sweden’s capital Stockholm. The Stockholm International Horse Show is celebrating their 15th anniversary this year and has also been part of the FEI World Cup™ Driving from the beginning. The week after Stockholm, Geneva in Switzerland will host the fourth competition. With its large arena and its endless possibilities for challenging courses, Geneva has become a worthy addition to the FEI World Cup™ Driving circuit these past years. On the same week end as Geneva, Hungary’s capital city Budapest will host an indoor driving try-out competition. The sport of carriage driving in Hungary is growing very fast and the enthusiasm of the Budapest organisers will result in an official place on the FEI World Cup™ Driving calendar 2008/2009. The traditional Flanders Christmas Horse Show in Mechelen, Belgium, is the stage for the fifth and last competition before the Final. The Top Five of the standings after Mechelen qualify for the Final, in which the drivers start from scratch.
For the first time in the history of the FEI World Cup™ Driving, the Final will not take place in the usual ambiance of Sweden’s Gothenburg Horse Show, but in Leipzig, Germany. Gothenburg is hosting the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final and decided for various reasons not to host the ever popular driving competition in 2008. But Gothenburg will for sure be back on the FEI World Cup™ Driving calendar in 2008/2009. Leipzig however, offers an excellent replacement for the Final. The smooth organisation, the large arena with the solid footing and the always enthusiastic spectators will guarantee fantastic sport in the Leipziger Messe from 17 to 20 January 2008.
Although three summer qualifiers took place in Germany and the FEI World Cup™ Driving season 2007/2008 counts three legs in Germany, this season’s competitor’s list does not include a driver of one of the biggest driving nations in the world. FEI World Cup™ title defender Michael Freund ended his career as an active driver after the Final in Gothenburg last February. Freund has been a true ambassador for the indoor driving sport and his charming personality and sportsmanship will be missed in the indoor arenas. But his successors are knocking on the door already.
Triple World Champion Ijsbrand Chardon from the Netherlands is a winner in heart and soul and will put everything at stake to win back the FEI World Cup™ title which he lost to Freund last season. Australia’s Boyd Exell is back on the indoor driving scene after being absent for several years. Hungary’s Zoltan Lazar and Jozsef Dobrovitz have been regular competitors in the FEI World Cup™ Driving and will this year also represent the Hungarian colours in the indoor series. Werner Ulrich and Daniël Würgler from Switzerland, Tomas Eriksson from Sweden and Chardon’s compatriots Koos de Ronde and Mark Weusthof have all competed in the FEI World Cup™ before. Newcomer to the series is Frenchman Benjamin Aillaud. The 31-year-old horseman impressed friend and enemy in Geneva last year where he competed with a wild card. With his team of Lipizzaner horses, Aillaud won the summer qualifier in Altenfelden, Austria, and put down top performances throughout the whole season. His eagerness and energy to win will certainly be an addition to the excitement of the FEI World Cup™ Driving season 2007/2008.
The absence of German drivers in the FEI World Cup™ will most probably, however, be solved by the organisers as every qualifier provides the opportunity for up to three competitors to compete with a wild card… Germany’s Christoph Sandmann has already received an invitation to compete in Hannover and Stuttgart. Unlike previous years, wild card drivers cannot earn points at these qualifiers and can therefore not qualify for the Final. Nonetheless, in accordance with the wishes expressed by the drivers, the organisers of the Final may allocate one wild card which could result in the awkward situation that a wild card driver wins the Final. Nothing like a little suspense!
Photo: The FEI World Cup™ Driving title holder is Germany’s Michael Freund - not once, twice but 5 time-winner since the inception of the series in 2001!