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After an eight-day competition where 52 all-women teams of drivers and navigators crossed over 1,500 miles of the Mojave desert with all-terrain trucks and SUVs, the 2021 Rebelle Rally is complete. 

Emily Miller founded the Rebelle Rally in 2015 as a proving ground for automakers and a space for women to be challenged and have fun in a motorsport environment without having to think about anything that comes with existing in a male-dominated arena. Indeed, any event that encourages non-men to do driving things is a boon to car culture right now.

The Rebelle takes nearly stock vehicles and sends them across intense terrain in a navigation rally. It’s not a contest of flat-out speed per se; strategy and vehicle-wrangling skill play a big part. On the sixth running of this rally, the year, competitors encountered new challenges with weather and terrain that weren’t experienced previously.

Welcome to Headlight. This is a daily news feature that lights up one current event in the car world and breaks it down by three simple subheadings: What Happened, Why It Matters, and What To Look For Next. Look for it in the morning (Eastern time) every weekday.

What Happened

This year’s Rebelle Rally came much anticipated by us at Car Bibles. After seeing months of teasers from automakers with a huge variety of excellent factory-prepped trucks in special liveries, we finally saw the trucks and teams gather in the middle of the Nevada desert for the incredibly windy first stage on October 9. 

Over the next seven stages and six days of off-roading with no GPS and no smartphones, competitors navigated to predetermined checkpoints using maps, compasses, and roadbooks. This more traditional method of navigation is only half of the challenge of the Rebelle. The other is the technical restrictions on truck modification. Every truck or SUV that enters must be road legal, registered, and adhere to certain regulations within each class. No matter what, no tube-frame race trucks, special tires, or suspension hardpoint modification is not allowed, and competing vehicles must be within 120 days of full public production.

Two main classes are defined as 4×4 and X-Cross. 4×4 class trucks are vehicles with a true two-speed transfer case and X-Cross are unibody with two-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive with no low range. Within those classes are smaller special designations for an extra challenge. The 4030 class isn’t so much a competitive class as it is a badge of honor for competing in a vehicle that is at least 40 years old. Bone Stock only allows trucks with no modifications besides a set of DOT-approved and readily available off-road tires on stock-size wheels. International Cup is for teams where both entrants are not from the United States. Finally, Electrified is for any vehicle that is hybridized or fully electric, which is a new class that began in 2020 that still competes within the 4×4 and X-Cross framework of the regulations.

The overall winner of the 2021 Rebelle was team 129 4xEventures with Nena Barlow and Teralin Petereit campaigning a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe (a hybrid), also placing highest of the Electrified and Bone Stock classes, the first time an Electrified car won overall. This year was particularly harsh on the weather, with a historic wind storm turning most of the Mojave into a sand storm that my home was in the middle of. Local freeways and roads were closed due to the severity of it, and it was only worse for competitors. 

Why It Matters

An all-women’s rally is an important and distinct way to allow women to compete as men always have in motorsports: without judgment or inequality based on their gender. Still, it is not a challenge that is made easier because of this. Competitors are still in the middle of the desert with lightly prepped production trucks armed with nothing more than a compass and maps. It’s a true test of skill and grit that also has benefits for everyone sprinkled in.

The auto manufacturer involvement in the Rebelle is also considerable, with a goal of the rally to be a landmark event for automakers to test and showcase products in the most rugged and demanding conditions possible. Jeep, Nissan, Porsche, Toyota, Kia, Mitsubishi, Ford, and Honda all are participating with a factory-supported team for their trucks while Rivian and Volkswagen are campaigning with their new full EV trucks: the R1T and ID.4 AWD, respectively.

This real-world testing and effort from the rally and the automakers drives innovation for all involved and lets automakers see how far their more normal offerings can get. The most interesting thing about the new Electrified class is the charging solution for these EVs hundreds of miles away from infrastructure, let alone a charging station. 

Renewable Innovations stepped in to solve this problem with semi-trucks that recharge EVs with hydrogen power and solar trucks for the base camps on every stage of the rally. This is a truly fascinating solution to a seemingly unanswerable problem of EV offroading: what happens when you run out of charge in the middle of nowhere? 

The Rebelle seems to meet its goals of being innovative on all fronts and offers an interesting competition with difficult obstacles. Most of all, the solutions for EV off-roading are fascinating and potentially scalable for different situations. Give it a decade of development and we can have the EV “jerry can” problem solved. For PHEVs or hybrids, this problem doesn’t exist yet the rally pushes the highly advanced hardware of these off-road machines.

What To Look For Next

The organizers of the Rebelle hope that the rally will continue growing and it almost surely will. In the short six years of its existence, it has become an event that is a must-follow in some capacity and is starting to become a testing ground for renewable and sustainable technologies for our brave new EV future. 

As more EVs trickle out from the legacy automakers, we will surely see more competing and more solutions being developed for charging where there is no infrastructure. It also proves an ideal place for automakers to test emerging technology in harsh climates. A considerable concern amongst buyers of EVs and PHEVs is reliability and durability with so much technical complexity packed into one vehicle. I say the more PHEV SUVs we can throw into a barren desert to test, the better they will get.

Next year’s Rebelle is on for October 6, 2022. Will we see Ford campaign the new F-150 Lightning, Toyota the new Tundra, or recently teased new Range Rover? We will have to wait to see until next year.

Check out some of the very cool liveries sported by competition vehicles at the 2021 Rebelle (we also did a post on the significance of Mitsubishi’s stripe job if you’re curious about that):

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