How the Rebelle Rally became a proving ground for EVs

If electric vehicles are to succeed and be adopted on a large scale, they must be able to tackle the needs of adventurers who want to do more than the daily commute, says Rebelle Rally founder Emily Miller.

Every October, women of all ages and backgrounds gather in the California desert to participate in the longest competitive off-road navigation rally in the United States. Armed with only a compass, paper maps and roadbooks to guide them, rally teams must navigate their way through eight gruelling days and 2,000 kilometres of tough terrain amongst the remote reaches of the Nevada and California desert.

Brainchild of off-road racer and sports marketer Emily Miller, the Rebelle Rally has been a proving ground for original equipment manufacturers since its inception in 2016. Previous years have seen a variety of vehicle manufacturers participate, including Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Rolls Royce. But 2020 witnessed something new – the debut of the event’s Electrified Designation – an opportunity for long-distance beta-testing of electric, plug-in hybrid electric and hybrid vehicles navigating through remote locations.

The great news is [electric vehicles] are driving a major wave of innovation. How long will it take to be able to drive remote parts of Africa and other places across the globe? It will take time, but we should expect to see clever innovation and development to meet the challenge

– Emily Miller, founder of Rebelle Rally

“The Rebelle was born out of the intention to be a world-class event and competition, and provide a place for stock vehicles to shine with a proving ground for original equipment manufacturers and to dig deeper and gain real feedback and data to impact the product that people buy,” says Miller. “Quite some time ago, well before the Rebelle, my goal was to test and prove vehicles with electric and alternative power plants. It seemed real-world testing was needed to provide experience and data to build a better solution.”

Miller knew that vehicles in the Electrified Designation would require on-course mobile rapid charging and fueling locations calculated by range estimates, overnight charging availability at each base camp and an on-site team to help problem-solve. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” she says. “But the mantra known by all at the Rebelle is if it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Miller is no stranger to challenge. In 2008 she became the first woman to solo (or ‘Ironman’) Vegas to Reno, the longest off-road race in the United States. Achieving multiple podium finishes and wins as both driver and navigator, including clinching a Baja 1000 win with her teammates in 2009, she switched gears and began coaching women the art of navigation and off-road driving. Years of experience in public relations and sports marketing, extensive education about permitting public land use zones, and the development of a solid rally format, scoring system and course by Miller and her team culminated in the inaugural Rebelle Rally in 2016.

“My parents loved my sense of adventure and encouraged it,” Miller says. “So being passionate about things started early. I’ve surrounded myself with people who are also passionate about life and the things they do. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m incredibly competitive, so pushing myself is something that is at the core of who I am.”

After successful talks with Mitsubishi about their Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle as a contender for the 2020 rally, US Army veterans Rachael Ridenour and Kristie Levy were chosen to compete in the X-Cross Class division. Meanwhile, two-time Rebelle winners Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe landed the highly anticipated Rivian R1T, set to compete as Team Killer Watt in the 4×4 Class. Miller also brought Utah-based Power Innovations on board for fast on-course battery electric vehicle (BEV) 175 KW charging and to power the event’s base camps.

“The Rivian R1T has some mighty strong bones,” says Emme Hall, Automotive Journalist and driver of Team Killer Watt. Hall put in eight days of seat time behind the wheel of the R1T during the Rebelle Rally, quickly learning how to use its regenerative breaking feature on-course. “If it’s this good through the toughest terrain, the fully fleshed-out production model should be nothing short of a game-changer,” Hall wrote in her review for CNET.

What is regenerative braking?

In a battery-powered electric vehicle, regenerative braking (also called ‘regen’) is the conversion of the vehicle’s kinetic energy into chemical energy stored in the battery where it can be used later to drive the vehicle. It also serves to slow the vehicle.


Although the pre-production truck was still a work in progress at the time of the rally, Rivian engineers gathered a wealth of information during every stage of the rally, including data on the R1T’s velocity, efficiency, battery status, thermal data, suspension and charge performance. Hall and teammate Donaghe provided real-time feedback from the course through a 4G-equipped data logger and one-way audio channel installed in the R1T. “Ask my co-pilot about when her seat heater randomly turned on in the middle of a 100-degree day,” Hall laughs.  

From what they’ve experienced, Miller, Hall and Donaghe believe electric vehicles are the future – not only for motorsports, but for travel in general. “The cons that we cannot dismiss are the lack of charging infrastructure and range,” Miller says. “However, the great news is it’s driving a major wave of innovation. How long will it take to be able to drive remote parts of Africa and other places across the globe? It will take time, but we should expect to see clever innovation and development to meet the challenge.”

For navigator and producer/filmmaker Donaghe, she loved every minute of her time in the Rivian R1T. “It was amazing to roll down those windows and hear the crunch of gravel under the tires. It’s like turning the engine off on a sailboat. You’re just there with the water and the wind. That’s what it felt like being in the truck. You feel so much more a part of the environment around you.”

With the launch of the Extreme E electric off-road racing series in March 2021, EVs appear to be gaining momentum in the motorsports world – something which Hall is truly excited about. “From my understanding, the races are short so drivers shouldn’t have to worry about battery conservation – they can just go full-out with all that great instant electric torque.”

Rebelle Rally FAQ:

  • Runs from October 7 to 16, 2021
  • Founder: Emily Miller
  • Distance: 2,000 kilometres
  • The rally route is top secret, only released on the day of each stage. Typically starting in Lake Tahoe and ending in San Diego, the rally takes place in the desert areas of Nevada and California.
  • Technical inspection conducted on the first day of the rally allows for installation of a tracking device, required safety items and confiscation of cell phones, computers and GPS-enabled devices.
  • 36 teams competed in 2020
  • Vehicle classes include 4×4 (4-wheel drive vehicles with a two-speed transfer case, low range) and Crossover (unibody construction and two-wheel or all-wheel drive, no low range).
  • All competitors are provided with handheld tracking devices, which teams use to signal upon arrival at a checkpoint.
  • Primary navigation tools include a compass, plotter, ruler, calculator, and scales.
  • The Rebelle is not a race for speed – teams are scored on checkpoint accuracy.

Extreme E teams will be comprised of both a male and female race driver, promoting gender equality and a level playing field amongst competitors. “I love that the organisers made a choice to keep it gender balanced,” Hall says. “It’s a great opportunity for all of the female racers out there.”

Miller is in the midst of scouting this year’s Rebelle Rally course, continuing to pave the way for the continuation of EV testing. “I just bought an electric dirt bike, the Sur Ron X. It’s such a great single-track dirt bike.” With 70-plus miles of range, topping out at 50 miles per hour with eight inches of suspension travel, Miller doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Learn more about the Rebelle Rally:





Photo credit: Richard Giordano (feature and in post)

Photo credit: Nicole Dreon (in post)

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