2020 REBELLE RALLY – BRONCO SPORT TEAMS CHALLENGE THEMSELVES ON STUNNING AND TOUGH TERRAIN
By Sue Mead:
The spectacular and diverse physical geography of the American west has delivered thrills, excitement, and challenges for the three Ford Bronco Sport teams participating in the 2020 Rebelle Rally, who Bronco Nation had the chance to interview. The teams are just past the mid-point of the 2,500-kilometer-long navigation rally that began on October 8 near Lake Tahoe, Nevada and ends in the California desert near the Mexican border on Oct. 17. The course for this all-women’s event took 36 teams along a collection of backcountry trails, dirt tracks, and over sand dunes that led through Death Valley, with majestic views of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US, and past Badwater, a below-sea-level salt flat that is the lowest point in the continental US.
“It’s been awesome,” enthused Shelby Hall, a well-known off-road racer who is paired with Penny Dale, an experienced navigator; the duo has each competed in the rally in the past. Newcomers, Erica Martin, Marketing and Communications Manager for Ford’s Bronco models, and Jovina Young, Bronco Sport Brand Manager, were over-the-moon, as well, with their first-time participation in the rally and the myriad of new things they are learning. “I can’t wait to go home and tell my women friends that we don’t need to go shopping and get manicures together to have a special experience–we can turn off our phones and take a road trip to see some of our beautiful country,” offered Martin.
Ford sponsored three teams in this year’s 5th-annual rally raid, including their employee team, who had never been off-roading until a month before they joined the country’s longest off-road navigational competition. Plus, the “newbie” team had never used a compass until two weeks before this eight-day “ultimate challenge for precise navigation”, designed by Emily Miller to attract both experts and newcomers to compete in the 4 x 4 Class (4WD vehicles with low-range gearing) or the X-Cross Class (crossover SUVs). The event is not a race for speed, but is crafted as a unique and demanding challenge based on the elements of headings, hidden checkpoints, time, and distance using maps, compass, and roadbook. No GPS, cell phones, or other electronic devices are allowed during the rally.
We spoke with the three Ford teams after a two-day marathon leg, where competitors had spent the night self-camping without the comforts of the rally’s nightly base camp. In addition to cooking meals in the desert, any mechanical issues for team vehicles have to be addressed by the competitors with whatever tools and supplies they have on hand. Miller designed this rigor as a “pivotal moment for many competitors, when showers and food trucks are replaced by a star- filled sky and belly laughs among like-minded women”.
Like their “Bronco Sport family teammates”, Elana Scherr and Betsy Anderson have experienced both fun and fatigue. “The hardest part is the tough learning curve to find the checkpoints,” said Scherr, a well-known automotive journalist and author, who works at Car and Driver magazine, and has covered many Baja and other off-road races. It’s been equally rigorous for Anderson, who has raced in NORRA and SCORE events in Mexico. “The difference in the Rebelle is in the precision accuracy that requires knowing your exact latitude and longitude on small-scale maps!” described Anderson, which brought a round of hearty laughter from the six women participating in our Zoom call, who had just arrived at the evening’s remote base camp and set up their tents in the dark, before attending the nightly rally meeting. In addition to a wrap-up of the day and overview of the upcoming drive day, Miller imparts her wisdom that comes from two decades of experience as a well-known off-road racer and 4WD trainer; challenging yourself, being a good teammate and keeping a sense of humor are high on her list of what’s important.
During the round of story-telling, we learned that rookies Martin and Young got stuck in deep sand, when they arrived in the Dumont Dunes; Scherr and Anderson struggled with a strategy for time-management and pacing to garner the greatest number of points during each day of the competition; and that Hall and Dale admitted that the rally has added more challenging driving and course navigation, despite their previous experiences on the rally. The pair have achieved top scores in the X-Cross Class on four of the first five days in the Rebelle.
We also learned that the Bronco Sport teams were thrilled to be part of this now-legendary event. Take-aways so far have included the camaraderie that has come from joining with women from across the country and beyond, as the rally has already created deep bonds and respect among participants and, in particular, within the three Bronco teams that have helped each other with map-reading and course planning prior to the start of the day. Of note, during the rally, the two-person teams are given different courses to ensure that no team “follows” another, however assisting teams that become stuck on the course is allowed.
“This is not part of our normal job description,” chuckled Young, who loves to remember that she is, in fact, “on-the-job”, while participating in one of the country’s top motoring challenges. Miller’s course was designed to do just that- to challenge drivers, navigators, and their vehicle over a wide variety of terrains that range from dirt roads to steep, loose climbs and sheer drops that force competitors to think on their feet and make calculated decisions.
“One of the best moments on the rally for us so far was realizing that we were in Johnson Valley, where the Bronco has been tested by Ford,” said Young, who is thrilled to be putting the Bronco Sport through an authentic test drive with Martin that she hopes will inspire others. “We have come so far and learned so much,” added Martin. “As a working Mom during a pandemic, I have had time to myself and have been lucky that this is our job right now!”
**The Rebelle Rally begins Oct. 7th, with Tech Inspection and Prologue Days at the start. To follow along, viewers can watch the live webcast at www.rebellerally.com October 8-17, 2020.
Sue Mead is an automotive journalist and a member of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. She has been a professional off-roader for 30+ years, including involvement in racing and expeditions around the globe.