The 2022 Rebelle Rally, the longest navigational rally in the U.S. with all female competitors, kicked off at Incline Village yesterday with 108 racers going through Tech Inspection on Wednesday and early Thursday before heading to the first base camp about five hours away from Tahoe.
As a competitor, Tech Inspection is filled with nerves, anticipation, and excitement. The Rally organizers are strict about everything — from the type of modifications competitors make to their vehicles to the most nerve-wracking requirement: making sure your car’s GPS is completely scrambled.
During the 2021 Rally, my navigator Beth Bowman and I were lucky enough to participate with Porsche, and we drove a bone stock 2020 Porsche Cayenne S. Porsche worked with us to ensure that our GPS thought we were somewhere in the Pacific Ocean for the entire trip, but it was a massive technological struggle since most modern vehicles rely heavily on GPS for everything from suspension and gearing management to efficiency. Most new cars hate having their GPS scrambled, and it often makes other systems in the car behave strangely, too.
Tech Inspection also covers everything from mechanical equipment that Rebelles may need to repair their vehicles in the field, to first aid kits and spare tires. Each vehicle is outfitted with a YB Tracker and Icom satellite phone to be used in emergencies since all of the competitors will have their cellphones and handheld GPS devices locked away for the remainder of the event.
Rebelles also receive the blue competitor vests that the women wear during the event, which includes their team number as well as the Rally’s logo; many teams decorate their vests with unique patches that make them their own.
Last year’s tech inspection took place at the Hoover Dam, which made for an incredible photo-op of all the Rebelle Rally vehicles lined up and waiting for their turn. This year’s Tech Inspection took place in Lake Tahoe, where the women checked their vehicles and prepared for an early start on Friday for Rally School and the Prologue. There are 46 4×4 entries and eight X-Cross entries this year, including the first Isuzu (a Vehicross!) and BMW (an X5) to compete.
As the founder, Emily Miller, reminds the Rebelles every year that distance and heading never lie. And yet, without accurate distance measurements, teams struggle to find their way and score points. The competition requires teams to know exactly where they are using heading and distance. While you could use your standard vehicle odometer for this, it’s not nearly as accurate as it needs to be in order to locate the precise checkpoints in the desert.
Instead, all teams run either an ICO or Terratrip Rally computer to determine exactly where they are. Installing these things and using them is like trying to learn another language, and they’re almost always off in some way or another. This is the instruction manual for the ICO computer, as an example. It’s more like Morse Code than anything human-readable.
When my team ran the rally in 2021, our Terratrip never powered on, so we had to rely on our backup ICO computer, which had fewer (and often less precise) features. The trip computers use the diameter of your tires (which you have to figure out how to set using the Morse Code mentioned previously) and a magnet or wire near the wheel to determine accurate distance.
Getting your rally computer dialed in accurately is a constant struggle as teams air up or down to tackle tricky terrain. It’s common to see teams crawling under their vehicle to fix the sensor so that it’s close (or far) enough away to read the tires’ rate of rotation. Many teams help each other when a sensor is knocked loose, or stops working because it’s such a regular occurrence.
Once everything was sorted at Tech Inspection and the vehicles were stickered, teams headed out for the five-hour drive to the first basecamp. Friday morning, the teams will start Rally School at 7:00 a.m., then head for the Prologue stage of the event. The Prologue and Rally School are not scored, and instead are used as a warm up for teams to get back in the practice of driving and navigating using paper maps and compasses.
Unfortunately, one team had to drop out of the Rebelle at the last minute this year as a result of vehicle complications; a team from Kenya that was running a Mobius vehicle won’t be competing as planned this year. That drops the field of competitors from 110 to 108.
Stay tuned for more to come from the Rebelle as the competition begins Friday, bright and early. We’ll have more coverage as we get underway.
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