Canada’s McNair in second heading into final round of World Driving Championship

Sweden’s Ulf Ohlsson is leading and Yannick Gingras from the U.S. is fifth as the WDC concludes this morning at Gävle in Sweden.

by Dave Briggs

Despite the steep learning curve piloting unfamiliar trotters and even coldbloods at different distances, with different starting methods and on foreign ovals, driver Doug McNair of Canada was starting to find his stride by time the World Driving Championship (WDC) reached the racetrack in Rättvik on Wednesday evening.

The five-eighths mile track surrounded by picturesque hills – think Pocono – and located near Lake Siljan some 3 ½ hours northwest of Stockholm, was the site for the fifth of six legs for the competition that concludes this morning at the track in Gävle. McNair sits second, just two points behind Sweden’s Ulf Ohlsson, heading into today’s finale.

McNair’s first win in the competition came Monday (May 27) — in the third leg of the championship — driving a coldblood named Klocksve Sprinten. As McNair waited in the Rättvik backstretch to pick up the coldblood he was driving that night, he talked about the challenges of adjusting to the horses.

“Mine wasn’t too bad, but he was still worse than a normal horse. At least he trotted,” McNair said of Klocksve Sprinten. “There were three or four of them that were half choked off before the race even went. They just pull on you and they don’t have much speed, that’s all, and they kind of feel to me like you’re driving a pony, other than they are way stronger.”

Fellow Canadian driver James MacDonald, the defending world champion, found the coldbloods to be an even bigger challenge.

“I’m just about to go drive a dirty coldblood here and see if I can get my arms torn out,” he said, laughing. “(The first one) was hard… my ass didn’t touch the seat for about three minutes straight. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but I’ve gotta go find the next one.”

Heading into today’s final round, MacDonald sits 11th in the 12-man competition, 57.5 points behind the leader. Still, he said the experience of driving in Sweden has been fantastic.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I’d like to do well everywhere I go and I’m not doing that well, but, at the same time, these things are a lot of luck, you know? You’ve got to get the good post with the good horses and get some points when you have a follower or just an average horse, so… unfortunately, I’ve been making breaks with the good ones and not being able to chip away with the average ones.”

U.S. representative Yannick did some major chipping away at Rättvik, jumping into fifth place with a win with Levi Mistress in the first WDC race of the night (and another win outside of the competition). Gingras sits 17 points off the lead and is behind Eirik Höitomt of Norway (fourth), Mika Forss of Finland (third), McNair and Ohlsson.

“It’s definitely a different challenge for us,” Gingras said of the North American drivers. “Some of the European guys have a little bit of an advantage, but it’s the same everywhere. If they come to the U.S., they have to drive pacers that they never driven before, so that’s the name of the game. For me, I think it’s fun… I want to come here and learn.”

Gingras said driving coldbloods wasn’t easy, but it was “something to try.

“They don’t have a lot of speed. This one was actually perfect to drive, easy in the mouth. The other one I drove was really grabby, but the minute you let them go, they go slower. It’s more like you’ve got to keep them brave.”

Gingras said he’d love to drive in the Elitlopp again one day and win it.

“I don’t want to just race in it, I want to win it and that’s where the experience of being here (helps),” he said, adding he has received a warm reception from the Swedish people. “I think people know how much I love Sweden and all the experiences, and I think they appreciate that I love their country.”

MacDonald said he has been “just taking it all in” this week.

“I’m enjoying being in Sweden and it’s probably somewhere I never would have gone in my life unless it was to watch the Elitlopp, so to make it here and compete on these racetracks… to see what they do over here and just learn the difference cultures, it’s been a great experience,” MacDonald said.

“The whole trip we’ve been comparing, ‘This is how we do it back home’ and ‘This is how they do it here.’ I’m not going to say anything is better one way or the other, but it’s completely different. There’s very few similarities, but the great drivers over here are fun to watch and it’s definitely a very different driving style from what we see back home, but I don’t think we’re going to change back home anytime soon and I don’t think they are going to change here anytime soon.”

Drivers earn points based on their finishing position. The top point-earner will be declared the 2019 World Driving Champion and win $25,000 (U.S.) in prize money. Points for the championship are awarded as follows: 19 points for a win, 14 (2); 11 (3); 9 (4); 8 (5); 7 (6); 6 (7); 5 (8); 4 (9); 3 (10); 2 (11) and 1 (12).

Standings heading into the final leg

1. Ulf Ohlsson (Sweden) – 166.5
2. Doug McNair (Canada) – 164.5
3. Mika Forss (Finland) – 154
4. Eirik Höitomt (Norway) – 151
5. Yannick Gingras (USA) – 149.5
6. Rick Ebbinge (The Netherlands) – 146.5
7. Matthew Williamson (New Zealand) – 135.5
8. Michael Nimczyk (Germany) – 125.5
9. Franck Nivard (France) – 121
10. Rodney Gatt (Malta) – 111
11. James MacDonald (Canada/ITA) – 109
12. Todd McCarthy (Australia) – 103