2023 Rebelle Rally: Recap

2023 marks Ford’s 4th year competing in the Rebelle Rally, and Shelby’s 4th year competing on behalf of Ford/Ford Performance.

This year brought a new level competition: from Ford entering 5 teams; to the rally increasing the total entry count to 64 (54 in the 4×4 class; 10 in the X-Cross class).

Starting in Mammoth and ending in Glamis, Shelby and Rori competed for 8-days straight and covered nearly 1200 miles of grueling yet gorgeous terrain.

Desert Roots had their fair share of high’s and low’s, and everything in between, and ended they rally in a solid 5th place position.

Looking Back:

After my first Rebelle Rally in 2016, I remember thinking, “No way am I doing this again. Where’s the speed? Why do we have to stop so much? What is my navigator doing over there with the map? How can she tell what that squiggly line means in comparison to the landscape I see through the windshield?” I had a hundred reasons why I didn’t “like it” – and looking back now, it was pretty much because I didn’t understand it. Go figure.

Fast forward to 2019: after our challenging Baja 1000 race in Bronco R, I remembered a lesson my Grandpa Rod taught me: when working with a manufacturer, it is our duty to make the vehicle shine. Ah ha! The Rebelle Rally came to mind. It was the perfect platform for a stock vehicle to shine. The founder of the rally, Emily Miller, was also mentored by my Grandfather, so her passion to create a playing field for production vehicles was strong.

I pitched the idea to Ford to compete in the rally in 2020, and 6 weeks before the start I received the green light – AND they wanted to field 3 teams. It was an exciting 6-weeks preparing, to say the least. Because it had been 3 years since I’d competed, my teammate, who I hadn’t met in person due to COVID, Penny Dale, was a vital resource. The rally had changed a lot over 3 years; like the introduction of X checkpoints and no assistance on TSD enduro’s (Penny had to teach me how to do enduro math during the rally!) Penny and I took that Bronco Sport and had an epic time – one of my fondest memories is having sore abs from laughing so much. We took home 1st place in the X-Cross class, and my navigational rally journey began.

Penny and I went back in 2021 + 2022 in a Bronco Wildtrak in the 4×4 class (placing 4th and 6th). In 2023, the Rebelle Rally program became official within the Ford brand, and I signed a 2-year competition contract with Ford Performance. Shifting gears to Ford Performance, and starting a new team with Rori Lewis, brought a year full of firsts. I trained more in 2023 than the prior three years combined, and stepped into the realm of understanding the navigation side. It’s my goal to someday have the skills to swap from navigator and driver throughout the competition. 

To Rally Through My Eyes:

Prologue + Day 1: Mammoth
Day 2: Mammoth to Gold Point, marathon
Day 3: Gold Point to Spangler
Day 4: Spangler
Day 5: Spangler to JV, marathon
Day 6: JV to Glamis
Day 7: Glamis

We kicked off the prologue by ranking the highest on our TSD enduro – which was a nice surprise because we started having issues with our Terratrip after leaving tech in Mammoth. 

Days one and 2 graced us with gorgeous views; gnarly hill climbs and tight, technical terrain – my favorite! On day 2, we climbed a long lost mountain range on very faint roads and landed at an old mining ghost town. It was an epic drive, and even more epic navigation to get us there! We had some heart skipping excitement when we unintentionally tried to catch our maps on fire with our magnifying glass! We ended stage 2 in Gold Point at our first marathon camp – the last day of having an air mattress that held air and still experiencing Terratrip issues. 

Ending position: P3

Day 3 brought challenging navigation as we worked our way through twisty and windy roads, making it difficult to measure distance. Day 3 was a doozie. If you’re familiar with the Rebelle Rally, you know what the infamous “day 3” is. If not, let me fill you in: “day 3” is the day where nothing seems to go right; penalty’s seem to be around every corner; and your day typically ends in tears…or silence. We picked up several penalties, and ended our day disappointed, especially since we came off the first few days feeling great and in a groove. But we picked ourselves up, licked our wounds and charged ahead. We had a considerable transit from the Gold Point area to the Ridgecrest – Spangler OHV area, and ended the day on a high note by fixing the Terratrip!

On day 4, we woke up with a positive attitude and a readiness to start fresh. We spent many weekends together training in this area, so we felt good with a strong knowledge of the landscape. We put the bad luck behind us and kept charging, and ended the day with a brand new, difficult mapping challenge. The rally took our existing maps and swapped them for a 60,000 scale map and purposefully printed missing a TON topographical info. This made for a great challenge because we don’t typically carry 60k scales, so Rori had to make her own, and you know, a map is hard to read with almost no information on it. But we did the best we could, and were able to reach one final checkpoint, pull our friends out of a wash, and make it back to basecamp.

Ending position: P9 

Day 5 we packed up our camp gear and headed to Johnson Valley. We were excited to get further south and into Rori’s stomping grounds. Rori lives within an hour of JV, so between her years of joyriding and the time we spent there together training, we were hopeful for a stronger day. We entered the day with a positive attitude and a readiness to start fresh, and then BAM, the universe had a different plan for us: our keys got locked in the running Bronco during the first on route enduro. I made the executive decision to request “outside assistance”, which gave us a 20 point penalty. The rally staff was able to get to us and reopen the truck within about 45 minutes. At this point, our team was feeling the stressors and frustration of hit after hit, but we kept our heads held as high as we could, and carried on to Johnson Valley.

Most of the black diamond JV checkpoints were extremely tight with radiuses of 15 meters (approximately 42 feet). For the first time in rally history, we were given a 2-day checkpoint guide for days 5 and 6, closing times of 12-36 hours and three open camp zones. We chased checkpoints until nearly dark, and found our closest campsite on a dry lake bed. This marathon night was my favorite: the night sky boasted glistening stars, and we camped alongside some of our favorite competitors. We sat together and ate our freeze dried dinners and shared our stories of woah and success. It was a chance to set the competition aside for a few moments, and feel like we were camping with our homies. 

On marathon nights, we receive our checkpoint guide for the next day, so the navigator can choose to plot the night before, or the morning of. I had installed six KC HiLites Cyclone lights in the interior of the Braptor, and man, oh man – they made car plotting a dream for the 2 marathon stages. 

Day 6 served up a Jimmy Lewis enduro, and a long transit to Glamis, which is a nice mental break but doesn’t give us an opportunity to capture many points. The on route transit took us to a new area of Glamis, which was fun, and we ended day 6 in the glorious Imperial Sand Dunes. To be honest, we came into basecamp feeling a bit defeated. Coming from the marathon stage, we didn’t know our standings but we knew how our days played out. Knowing we only had one final day felt… blah. Glamis is definitely the hardest driving and navigating, but an area we spent a lot of time training. Our fellow Ford Performance teammate, Laura Wanlass, read my face and pulled me aside to give me a pep talk. She reminded me to view the last day as if the glass was half full; take charge and go own the dunes. I am so grateful to Laura for this; I needed that sincerely pick me up.

Ending position: P7 

Day 7- the final stage. 8 years ago was my first time driving in the dunes. I was inexperienced and therefore lacked confidence. Since then, I made it a goal to train and train and train some more until the dunes feel like second nature. Now, I love driving in the dunes and enjoy the challenge this terrain offers. But now I have (more) experience, which brings (more) confidence. Does this mean I don’t get stuck? Heck no. Does this mean I don’t get butterflies when I see endless dunes? No. But what this does mean is that I have more fun, and when you’re having fun during competition, you tend to do better overall. Over the last 4 years, I have made it a top priority to spend as much time in the dunes as possible, and it worked for us on day 7! Rori did an incredible job navigating us through the ocean of sand, and I had a blast picking lines and finding the flow. We made two mistakes, giving us 20 points in penalties, but  were 4 points shy of winning the stage, and captured enough points to take us from 7th to 5th overall. 

Ending position: 5th

In conclusion, I am proud of team Rori and I make: Desert Roots. We spent nearly 10 weekends in the desert together, doing what we love. The penalties hit us hard, and we have room to become stronger, both in our individual roles and as a team. I am excited to work on our weaker areas, and live the adventure that will come over the next year. 

Rebelle Rally 2024 – we’ve got our eyes on you.