Rivian R1T is the first EV to win the longest off-road competition in the US

Motorsports and off-road competition isn’t the typical fodder over here at TechCrunch — unless, of course, there also happens to be a podium-winning team driving an all-electric 2023 Rivian R1T.

The Rebelle Rally, the longest off-road map-and-compass rally in the United States, wrapped up Friday evening with a new EV milestone under its belt. This was the first time that a team driving an all-electric vehicle (that would be the Rivian R1T) came in first place. The Rebelle Rally, in which all-women teams competed along a 2,120-kilometer course using only paper maps, compasses, and plotters, is in its eighth year.

The 2023 Rivian R1T, with Lilly Macaruso behind the wheel and Alex Anderson behind the compass and map, took first place in the 4×4 class. (An EV has yet to make the podium in the X Cross class.) Macaruso and Anderson, who are both Rivian employees, came in fourth place in the 2022 Rebelle Rally. This year, in another first, Rivian customer, Many Brezina, took her personally owned R1T in the competition. Brezina, and navigator Alex Gilman, finished 11th.

Rivian Rebelle Rally

Image Credits: Tim Sutton / Rebelle Rally

The Rivian R1T, which Anderson and Macaruso playfully nicknamed ‘Timmy,’ is actually considered a bone stock, meaning nothing aside from tires were changed on the vehicle that would affect its performance. However, Macaruso and Anderson, both of whom work Rivian, made a number of modifications to the interior to keep them organized during the event.

Anderson, a senior mechanical engineer at Rivian, designed a number of items that her co-workers helped bring to life, including inserts for secure storage of a five-gallon water jug, encasing the interior of the A piller with velcro and fabricating mounts for a shovel and fire extinguisher. Anderson also 3D printed an upper cup holder that hooked onto the center console and a lower tray that sat just below it.

“All of these little changes added up for us,” Anderson said after the Rebelle Rally concluded.

Proving ground

The Rebelle has also become a proving ground of sorts for Rivian.

Rivian first came on the Rebelle scene in 2020 when Emme Hall, who is also an automotive journalist and contributor at TechCrunch, drove a pre-production version of the R1T. Rivian has sponsored a team every year since. The EV startup turned publicly traded company has used its experience at Rebelle Rally to workshop ideas and fine tune technology and features that eventually make their way into vehicles that consumers own.

While Rivian engineers told me that “sand mode” was always the plan, feedback from Hall as well as Rivian employees who have competed in Rebelle helped the company perfect the drive mode. Rivian’s 2022 Rebelle teams were instrumental in final validation of the software build, according to the company.

The latest example can be found in Rivian’s new 2023.38.0 software. In that OTA software update Rivian added a gauge view, which adapts each drive mode and gives real-time information about the vehicle’s battery and motor temperature, torque, steering angle, pitch and roll and tire pressure. 

Charging up in the wilderness

Rivian Rebelle Rally Renewable Innovations

Image Credits: Nicole Dreon / Rebelle Rally

The Rebelle Rally brings competitors far from established charging stations or gas stations, for that matter. Rebelle has partnered with companies like Pennzoil for gas and Renewable Innovations for green hydrogen. What does green hydrogen have to do with charging an EV?

Renewable Innovations has been providing DC fast chargers for the race since 2020. But until this year, the company used diesel generators to power up the chargers. The intention, Rebelle Rally founder Emily Miller told TechCrunch, was always to use hydrogen.

“The biggest challenge was the EV infrastructure,” Miller told TechCrunch at the finish line of Rebelle Rally 2023.

It took years to find the right partner, build out the infrastructure and secure the 800 kilograms of green hydrogen required for the 10-day event, she added.

Today, there are four charge points available to competitors. These chargers are trailered out to spots along the course for teams driving EVs.

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