The 2020 Rebelle Rally: Reflections on Winning the Rebelle in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport
By Sue Mead
Some wins are more rewarding than others. It’s no surprise that Shelby Hall and Penny Dale were ecstatic when they won the X-CROSS Class of the 2020 Rebelle Rally, but their comeback to victory after falling behind on the leaderboard, when it appeared that the duo likely had an assured win five days into the eight-day rally, is a story worth telling, as is the tale of their “third teammate”, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport.
When Hall, a well-regarded off-road racer from Reno, Nevada, and Dale, an experienced navigator from Vancouver, Canada, completed the country’s longest navigational rally, it was a feat that seemed nearly impossible a few days before, after a fuel miscalculation took their lead away and the team suffered points’ penalties. It put them in an intense situation of having to trust each other and this all-new crossover. Although the co-drivers worked extremely well together, it was just shortly before the 5th annual Rebelle Rally that they met and even less time for the experts to get to know the all-new Bronco Sport Badlands 4 x 4 that was their competition vehicle for America’s only all-female rally. Of note, Ford sponsored three Bronco Sport teams, the greatest number of sponsored teams by any manufacturer in the event that is designed as a “hybrid of serious competition and the ultimate road trip”, says Emily Miller, the rally’s founder.
“I could not have planned a better competition; all the competitors were fierce, and Penny and I knew we had to have laser focus to make it to the top,” enthused Hall, who grew up in the highly-regarded Hall off-road racing family, and learned driving tips and competed with her legendary grandfather Rod Hall, the winningest racer of the Baja 1000. “It’s a team of three: the navigator, driver and vehicle. My grandpa taught me so many valuable lessons, and two really came into action throughout this years’ rally: you don’t win the race right out of the gate. I had very minimal time in the Bronco Sport prior to competing; it would have been great to be a bit more familiar with it but, in all honesty, it was so easy to drive, there wasn’t a huge learning curve. I looked at day ’zero‘ practice in the rally as my day to get in tune with the vehicle. I ran it in 2WD and 4WD, and cycled through the drive modes. I wanted to get a feel for its response to different terrain and my individual driving style. I had faith in Ford to build a capable off-road crossover, but we took it slow at the beginning.”
“My grandpa always taught me that if you take care of the vehicle, it will take care of you,” added Hall, who has also raced the restored ’68 Bronco that her grandfather had driven to fame in the 1969 Mexican 1000. “The rally was full of successes and learning experiences for all. If Penny and I had a hard day, we did not let it get us down. We talked through it, agreed together how to not make the same decision and start the next day fresh and ready to charge. Coming through the finish line, we didn’t know our placement, but we knew we had tried our best, and for that, I was so proud! To learn we won felt surreal and so well earned.”
One of the best parts of the rally for third-time participant Dale was “how well Shelby and I ‘gelled’ as a team. I really believe that you can’t be successful if you’re not first a great team. There are so many elements to the rally that either make it a success or not—it’s not just whether you can drive or whether you can navigate. Shelby’s dad, Josh, reminded us before we left that we were partners and that our success would be built on how well we worked together as a team, how we communicated and how aligned we were, and, he was right,” offered the talented navigator, who said that this year’s rally was the toughest so far. “Ultimately, whether you land on the podium or not, the real win is how well you succeed for your teammate—how you treat each other, and how you treat your third teammate: the vehicle! We had only met in person just days before the competition and had received our Bronco Sport at the same time. It was a lot to get to know one another and the vehicle as we competed (and we’re very competitive!) and it honestly couldn’t have gone better.”
“Precision in plotting was even more important than ever,” said Dale. “We were often plotting black checkpoints on 200,000 scale maps where a 3mm pencil thickness can mean the difference of a 100m or more, immediately costing you the full points of the ‘bulls eye’ of the checkpoint. Black checkpoints are scored with ‘steps’, where the center typically in past years had a 50m radius and then 50m steps. This year, it became more challenging; we began receiving black CPs with 25m radius for full points and then only 15m steps as the rally proceeded. With each step you lose a point and if you’re 300m-500m out, you run the risk of a ‘wide miss penalty’.” Green, blue and black checkpoints have different values and difficulty.
The pair, known as “Team G.O.A.T.”, honored the original Bronco’s Go Over Any Terrain (GOAT) acronym and lauded the new Bronco Sports’ electronic terrain modes, called the GOAT mode. “It’s incredible to know the ’69 Bronco helped create the history that brought the new Bronco family back,” said Hall. “Our ’69 Bronco is a fun, wild ride, whereas the new Bronco Sport is more luxurious and comfortable, but still offers plenty of power, durability and capability in the dirt. While our ‘69 is made for racing, the Sport is a great mixture designed for both adventure and practicality.”
Two-time Rebelle participant Hall really loved the interior of the Sport. “It was a very comfortable ride, easy to drive and handled really well. We removed the back seats to make plenty of room for all of our rally gear, and I was very impressed with how well everything fit. We had two spare tires, all the tools and fluids we needed in case of emergency, recovery gear, camping gear for two, plus our personal luggage. I am not very tall, so I usually find it a bit challenging to get the seat into proper position for a full view, but the seat adjusted to my exact preference, which was great as driver because visibility is a huge priority to me.”
“Emily has been progressively making the rally more challenging and, as competitors, we’re progressively getting a lot better so that ups the ante as well,” said Dale. “For us, it was also a unique challenge driving in the X-CROSS category where we had less ground clearance than the 4 x 4 Class vehicles that have low range gears and typically have more ground clearance. Making sure we took good care of our vehicle had to be our top priority and maps don’t dictate road quality. It’s a bit of a mental game deciding what the best, fastest routes are through studying terrain and knowing your driver’s and vehicle’s capabilities.
“I found the Bronco Sport to be very capable; we often had to remind ourselves we were in the X-CROSS category. Shelby is a fantastic driver and she navigated us through terrain that we were likely not meant to cross through time and time again with absolute finesse. From the passenger seat, the vehicle handled it smoothly and, even after 10 hours a day in the vehicle, I was very comfortable. It was an added bonus that both the driver’s seat and passenger seat are fully adjustable.”
“There was no scenario that we needed to navigate through that our vehicle and Shelby couldn’t do with ease,” said Dale. “I loved the turbo, which is really fun and did not let us down in hill climbs, and the front camera that gives you a wide-angle view right from the bumper, which is very helpful in difficult terrain. I also appreciated that there was lots of storage space for all of our snacks, beverages, and gear and that the power outlet enabled us to style our hair for the gala within the car—an absolute dream for the ladies!”
“The best part of the Rebelle was the friendships developed and camaraderie with the two other Bronco Sport teams,” said Hall. “We all come from different walks of life, and only met via Zoom prior to the rally. This type of competition is not simply physically challenging, but mentally draining and character building. I knew at the end of each day, I had five others to laugh or cry with, and I am so proud of all.” Other teams included Elana Scherr, of Car and Driver, and experienced off-road racer Betsy Anderson; and off-road neophytes Jovina Young, Bronco Sport Brand Manager, and Erica Martin, Ford’s Marketing Communications Manager for SUVs.
“It was such an honor to compete with Shelby and to compete for Ford along with the two other teams,” concluded Dale. Seeing all three vehicles finish the rally was an absolute highlight. Knowing that all of our efforts resulted in a win for Ford in the new Bronco Sport is really an indescribable feeling. The rally is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (and I’ve done some hard things!) and I feel really grateful to have done it with Shelby and an amazing community of Rebelles.”
*The Rebelle has gained acclaim for the combination of spectacular scenery, rugged motoring and challenging navigation. Geared for both ”newbie” and experienced competitors, this year’s event drew 36 teams and nine automakers. Teams of two—a driver and navigator—relinquish their cell phones and all GPS and Internet-enabled devices and rely on old-world navigation to find their way to checkpoints with varying degrees of difficulty using only a compass, maps and roadbooks. Not a race for speed, the rally rewards precision driving and navigating and travels through designated open off-highway vehicle areas, using Tread Lightly! motoring and backcountry principles, along its course through swaths of America’s spectacular backcountry on a mix of dirt roads, off-road trails and desert sand. This year’s event began near Lake Tahoe, Nevada and ended in southern California, near the Mexican border.
*For further information about the Rebelle Rally, go to www.rebellerally.com