The 2023 Rebelle Rally was a true adventure for a group of competitors driving various Honda vehicles. Here is a quick recap highlighting their effort lasting eight days and covering more than 1,400 miles of grueling off-road terrain. The challenge factor is that all navigation through this unforgiving landscape was done with no wayfinding technology except topographic maps and a compass.
“I registered for the Rebelle Rally in 2019 with zero off-road driving experience, no teammate, and not a bit of map and compass knowledge,” said Lisa Wolford, a 55-year-old American Airlines flight attendant from Tempe, Arizona, who goes by Lola. “I didn’t even own a vehicle (I went 12 years without one) and had no funding in my savings account.” She and her navigator Noelle Sanders, along with three other teams, created a Honda collective that competed in this year’s Rebelle Rally. They hit the dirt hard in search of hidden checkpoints, newly honed skills, and unsung moments of glory.
Everyone Starts From Somewhere
Though she knew with hard work she could learn basic skills and save up for the registration fees (which crested to nearly $14,300 in 2023), she kept thinking, “I can do it.” Including this year’s competition as team Sol Seekers #201, Wolford has competed four times, twice as a driver and twice as a navigator. She challenged herself in the X-Cross crossover category three times and once in the 4×4 class, but all have been as a privateer.
“I want to show all the little people like me [as a privateer], that with hard work and determination, you too can do big things. More seat time and hands-on practice with several top-notch instructors steered me to my personal achievements, although they may not have been apparent in my team scores to most,” Wolford explained. “This was my first time supplying the vehicle and I extremely enjoyed learning all the things, doing all the research, and selecting the products for my build. My goal to have my ‘third teammate’ properly prepared was more than a success in my opinion. She’s old.”
2007 Honda Ridgeline Truck
“My goals have always been to simply cross the start line as a well-prepared teammate and to cross the finish line as a better me,” Wolford stated. She is the third owner of her first-gen 2007 Honda Ridgeline truck and rolled over 208,000 miles with it during the 2023 rally. “I bought it specifically to compete in the Rebelle. I sought out a model with no navigation system. Instead, she has a lovely six-disc CD changer.”
Wolford added that her Honda Ridgeline is underestimated. “When you learn all she can do, how to handle her limited torque and keep the transmission temps reasonable, and enjoy the fact that she can take you almost all the places that your friends go, then you won’t want to give her up.” She adds that the truck offers so much storage and a lot of comfort. She never thought she’d own a Honda but her truck is reliable, AWD, and can go places. “I want to give everyone a ride in the dunes just to show them the unexpected,” Wilford says with an ear-to-ear smile.
Bone Stock: 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport
Our team, Nor’Wester #211, took on this year’s rally as Honda’s first-ever journalist and non-employee team. My navigator, Emily Winslow, and I championed a bone stock 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport as part of the Honda three-team collective. This was the third time Winslow and I joined together for this competition. It was my second run in the crossover class, my first was the rally’s first-ever all-electric crossover, the all-wheel-drive Volkswagen ID.4.
Our three-row seven-passenger SUV had many bells and whistles to earn its place as a worthy off-road competitor. The factory Pilot TrailSport comes with an off-road enhanced suspension and has an extra 1-inch of ground clearance over its regular Pilot cousin for a total of 8.3 inches. It also has various driving modes, including Trail and Sand which were critical to reaching the finish line without issue. Our family-minded vehicle also featured a nifty TrailWatch camera setup. This provided several camera angles to see side fenders, a bird’s eye view, or even in front of you when navigating tight trails.
Rebelle Rally Honda Collective Thoughts And Preparations
“It was a very comfortable ride for 10-plus hours a day,” my navigator Winslow said. “I really enjoyed the helpfulness of the front cameras for the terrain we couldn’t see.” She also loved the huge cupholders and felt safe with added features like hill descent control.
In addition to the Honda Pilot TrailSport’s off-road capability, Winslow and I brought along key equipment to ensure rally success. Our stock SUV came with factory-equipped Continental TerrainContact all-terrain tires but were swapped out for heavier-duty 265/60 R18 Maxxis RAZR A/T tires. We carried items like a Pro Eagle off-road jack, full-size fire extinguisher, WARN winch and Factor 55 vehicle recovery gear, MAXTRAX recovery boards, and a five-gallon water container.
Our colorful chariot took us from the start line to the finish in style and comfort, with zero issues from tip to tail. Daily fluid and maintenance checks led to no trips to the mechanic’s trailer, something many other teams couldn’t say. Additionally, we didn’t have a single flat tire, but we saw dozens of tire failures. This shows that methodical tire placement and careful line selection play an important role when off-roading.
Proud Passport TrailSport
Rookies Nicole Rotondo and Serena Halterman, team #212, are INDYCAR trackside race engineers at Honda Performance Development (HPD). This was their first time competing in the Rebelle Rally, outfitted in a modified 2024 Honda Passport TrailSport.
“This was my first real experience in rallying, navigating, or off-road driving, aside from one event as a navigator in an SCCA [time-speed-distance] TSD rally back in college,” Rotondo said. “I actually didn’t make it all the way through that event because my motion sickness got the best of me.”
“Completing the rally in itself is a real badge of honor,” she added, “but, of course, our goal was to be competitive as a rookie team. We also put a big emphasis on completing the rally with our friendship intact, which can be a challenge in such a taxing competition.”
The biggest challenge the new duo faced during the rally was mental exhaustion. To them, the only way to overcome that was teamwork. “We would often double check each other’s work,” Rotondo exclaimed, “which was occasionally difficult to not let pride get in the way, but we really focused on sharing the load.”
The rookie team did well as a team together and earned the Rookie of the Year award.
2023 Rebelle Rally Adventure Honda Collective Image Gallery
2023 Rebelle Rally Highlight Video
The Customized Honda Pilot TrailSport
Seasoned Rebelles Liz Long and Hillary Tate, team #208, competed with Honda vehicles before. Unlike teams with dedicated drivers and navigators, this pair switches roles.
Long is a chassis reliability test engineer at the Honda Auto Development Center (ADC). Tate is a project and construction administrator for American Honda. The team is associated with the Honda of America Racing Team (HART), facilitated by U.S. Honda personnel.
“I participated with the HART Rebelle team for three years,” Tate said. “The first year, I helped to set up the vehicle. In 2022 and 2023, I was a driver/navigator [switching roles during the event]. In 2023, I navigated the day we got a stage win, in difficult sand dunes.” The duo finished with a well-earned fourth-place finish in the X-Cross class.
“We worked as a team. We’d discuss the next day’s plan the night before, so we’d know our roles when waking up at 4:30 a.m.,” Tate said. “We’d take 15 minutes before our start time to assess the game plan for the day so the driver was informed on how the day would unfold.”
Rebelle Rally Honda Extreme Determination
Through terribly rutted-out trails and sandy washes, the pair took their time, placing tires strategically. They leaned on Honda’s TrailWatch camera system or helped each other get out and spot trails while the other drove across tricky obstacles.
“We crossed great, jagged ruts at steep inclines outside of Mammoth and conquered a steep, rocky hill outside of Spangler OHV [off-highway-vehicle area]. We worked together to spot [each other] over the sand dunes on the last day. Long and I worked as a team, including our third teammate, the Honda Pilot Trailsport,” Tate explained.
The Rebelle Rally Honda Collective
All four Honda vehicles, no matter where they came from or who supported them, championed their way across the finish line without issue. From a 2007 Ridgeline truck with over 208,000 miles on it to new 2024 models, including two Honda Pilot TrailSports with barely 1,000 miles on them, each vehicle hit the 2023 Rebelle Rally hard this year. The Honda collective experienced zero mechanical issues and no tire punctures with all teams finishing strong. A large hat tip to Honda for producing capable vehicles that can tackle over 1,400 miles of extreme desert terrain.