As the first official day of the Rebelle Rally gets underway in the Lake Tahoe area—the 110 women of the seventh annual event spend their day going through a rigorous tech inspection, then head to the first base camp located near a ghost town with a population of only eight people, the same number of manufacturers keeping their eyes on the teams they have participating.
It’s common for major automakers, or OEMs, to assemble teams to compete in the Rally. This year, there are eight automaker-backed teams taking part in the 1,600-mile navigational rally that stretches over a period of 10 days and covers sandy, remote parts of California and Nevada.
Emily Miller, who founded the Rebelle Rally in 2015, says that including manufacturer-backed teams in the competition has always been part of the Rebelle’s mission because it offers these OEMs an opportunity to showcase and test the capabilities of their stock vehicles.
“You have all these manufacturer vehicles, and OEMs have spent so much money to design them, develop them and then test them,” says Miller. “These vehicles are a piece of this functional, incredible art, and it’s where we spend a lot of our life. Now at year seven, [we] see the manufacturers recognizing the value of the Rebelle — not because it’s a women’s car rally and it checks a box, but because they believe in this platform for their vehicles.”
And there are plenty of benefits for OEMs running the rally. In previous years of the Rebelle, manufacturers have run preproduction models, like the Rivian R1T, for example, before these became available to consumers. The OEMs then take what they learn at the event and tweak settings or a given setup in order to make their vehicles more resilient to the punishing courses the Rebelles run.
Last year, after Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe struggled in the dunes because of the settings in their production model R1T (they were in a pre-production R1T in 2020), Rivian made changes and added a Sand Mode to both the R1T and R1S.
This year Kia, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Ford, Jeep, Toyota and Rivian are participating with their own manufacturer-backed teams. Last year’s OEMs included Volkswagen, Porsche and Mitsubishi, although those manufacturers have not returned for 2022.
This year’s collection of OEMs includes five teams participating in the X-Cross group, and eight in the 4X4 group. And Ford, Jeep, Toyota and Rivian are running multiple teams. Some teams are made up of rookies while others include a mix of rookies and alumni. Here’s how these teams break down:
Kia is running a 2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro with Team 206, made up of a pair of veteran Rebelles: Tana White and Verena Mei. White is a five time Rebelle, and Verena is participating for the second time. Mei has been a professional sim and rally racer, as well as a driving instructor.
Honda is running a 2023 Honda Passport Trailsport with Team 208, made up of Hillary Tate, who’s a rookie, and Liz Long, who’s a three time Rebelle.
This year, Hyundai is attending with a pair of automotive journalists behind the wheel of a 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz. Kirstin Shaw and Jill Ciminilo, both of whom are rookies, make up Team 215 for Hyundai.
Nissan has been a longtime backer of the Rebelle, participating since 2015 with different vehicles and different teams. This year, the company has a 2023 Pathfinder X-Cross in the competition piloted by long-running Team 216, made up of Lyn Woodward and Sedona Blinson. Woodward is an auto journalist, and Blinson is a teacher. Both have been participating in the Rebelle for many years.
And there’s also a pair of OG Rebelles participating with the help of Ford, in a 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. Team 200 is made up of Melissa Fischer and Chris Benzie; they both have participated in the Rebelle for multiple years. In fact, Fischer was part of the team that won the X-Cross designation in 2021.
Ford has a total of three teams in the Rebelle this year; one is in the previous category, and two teams are in the 4×4 category. Team 131 is running a 2021 Ford Bronco, and is made up of teammates Kathryn Reinhardt and Tori Bundrant; both are two-time Rebelles. Team 150 is composed of Shelby Hall and Penny Dale. Hall is the granddaughter of legendary Baja racer Rod Hall, and a well known off-road racer in her own right. Both Hall and Dale are longstanding Rebelles.
Jeep is running a total of three teams in this year’s Rebelle Rally, too: these are Team 111, Team 129 and Team 160. All three teams are running the highly-capable Jeep Wrangler 4xe — which will get the Electrified designation.
Team 111 is made up of Emily Winslow and Mercedes Lilienthal, who’s also an auto journalist. Both are Rebelle alumni who ran in the Volkswagen ID.4 at the event last year. Team 129 is composed of well known off-road trainer, Nena Barlow, and Teralin Petereit; they were the 4×4 champions in 2021. And Team 160 is made up of two-time Rebelle Racquel Black and rookie Kaitlyn Milky.
Toyota is a major sponsor of the Rebelle this year. The company is backing the live show, and sponsoring three teams made up of Toyota engineers: these are Team 152, Team 153, and Team 182. Team 152 is made up of Sam Barber and Becky Brophy, both of whom are two-time Rebelles. Team 153 is made up of Karen Yde and Crystal Mink. And Team 182 is Carole Koenig and Libby Perego. Two Toyota teams are running in 2022 Toyota Tundra hybrids, while the other team is competing in a 2018 Toyota Tundra.
And, finally, electric automaker, Rivian is running two vehicles in the Rebelle this year, and like Toyota, Rivian chose to source their teams internally. Team 186 is made up of Nicole Johnson, the Director of Human Machine Interface (HMI) at Rivian, and her navigator is Rosanna Nuch, a Senior Service Lab Technician at Rivian. They’re in a brand new R1S. Both Nicole and Rosana are rookies.
Rivian is also running an R1T (truck) with rookie Team 187, made up of Lilly Macaruso, who worked the Rebelle last year and helped my team deal with everything from altitude sickness to a gnarly sandstorm, and Alex Anderson. Macaruso is a Senior Special Project Engineer at Rivian, and Anderson is a Senior Mechanical Engineer at the EV company.
That’s it for the OEM-backed teams. We’ll keep you updated on how the Rebelle Rally goes this year, so stay tuned for more.