YEAR: 2003

Photo courtesy Iron Horse Photo

Mark Jones is literally 'On Top of the World' after becoming the youngest reinsman to win the World Driving Championship during the final round at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada, last Saturday night.

Jones, 24, went into the last round three points adrift of Sweden's Erik Adielsson, who had scored heavily in the third and fourth legs at the Hippodrome in Montreal, Quebec, and Flamboro Downs in Ontario. But Jones had pretty much wrapped up the title going into the last race, and in the end finished 10 points clear of Canada's Jody Jamieson who took second on a countback after tying with Adielsson on points. Jamieson was the defending champion and previously the youngest driver to win the title, being a little under a year older than Jones.

Jones won the first race in the series and led after the first round at Charlottetown Driving Park on Prince Edward Island, but won only one more race, winning the Championship with general consistency, skill and patience. Thus the world title sees him complete a three-peat of sorts, having become the first junior driver to win 100 races in a season in 2000, and the following year the first to win the national title in his first season as an open driver. Jones joins the late Kevin Holmes, Robert Cameron, Maurice McKendry and Tony Herlihy as New Zealand winners of the title.

"The money (US$22,000) is nice, but it has been the whole experience and making so many new friends which has been really great - the series has been really well organised and we had been treated like royalty. I have a lot of people and their horses to thank for supporting me along the way, like Cran and Chrissy Dalgety and Dean and Lesley Taylor and in the beginning Maurice Bailey and Andrew Eyre, but most of all I'd like to thank my biggest supporter - mum (Lois)," he added.

Jones made good friendships during the series, but none more-so than Jamieson, who was unlucky in the penultimate round on the half-mile Flamboro track where he had led Jones by two but drew three second-lines and the outside of the front in the other and only scored 14 points. Jamieson won the last race of the series to take second, while France's Pierre Vercruysse won the first three races at Woodbine to finish fourth-equal with Finland's Antti Teivainen.

Jones had some "self doubts" about his style in the wide, speed sulkies used in North America, but was put at ease by Jamieson. "I was the only one it seemed that didn't lean back in the cart, but Jody said it didn't make any difference and just to stick with what I felt comfortable doing. They drive with their hands back, but I like to have more control."

Jones will now get to defend his title in Italy in 2005, and hopes to again represent New Zealand when the championship returns Down Under in four years time.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 30Jul03

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