For the first time, Honda invited a journalist to form the automaker’s first non-employee team to compete in the Rebelle Rally. That writer was me. 

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Two Honda Pilot TrailSports and a Passport TrailSport are lined up for tech inspection. image: Paolo Baraldi

This year’s competition was an eight-day 1,300+ traditional navigational off-road event that wasn’t for the faint of heart. Along with my husband, Andy, we’ve collectively owned nine Hondas. Along with two employee teams driving other TrailSport SUVs, I represented the Japanese auto manufacturer with my Washington-based teammate and seasoned navigator, Emily Winslow.

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Team Nor’Wester #211’s Mercedes Lilienthal and Emily Winslow. image: Ernesto Araiza

Team Nor’Wester #211: 2024 Bone Stock Pilot TrailSport
Though the other two Honda TrailSports were modified, our steed of choice was a bone stock Pilot TrailSport. Lili Melikian, a senior designer and one of the few females in Honda’s styling and design department, came up with the TrailSport trio’s colorful wrap design. All three teams carried four MAXTRAX recovery boards on board, with two of them mounting the equipment atop Honda Genuine Accessories roof baskets.

2024 bone stock Honda Pilot TrailSport_credit Mercedes Lilienthal

Team Nor’Wester #211’s bone stock 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport. image: Mercedes Lilienthal

As only one of two bone stock crossovers in the 10-vehicle-strong X-Cross class, we were allowed only one modification as an off-the-showroom vehicle: same-sized tires and wheels. We retained the factory wheels but changed up the tires that normally come with the Pilot TrailSport (Continental TerrainContact all-season all-terrains). In their place we ran beefier Maxxis 265/60 R18 RAZR A/Ts. This choice proved instrumental as we experienced zero flat tires or other major tire issues—something many other teams cannot say. I witnessed multiple participants with dual-tire blow-outs and dozens of others with shredded rubber, even after the first few days of competition.

2024 bone stock Honda Pilot TrailSport rear_credit Mercedes Lilienthal

A look at the rear of Team Nor’Wester #211’s 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport. image: Mercedes Lilienthal

Known as Team Nor’Wester #211, we had the second and third-row seats removed and multiple D-rings affixed to the Pilot TrailSport’s floor. This gave us a multitude of cargo-securing opportunities. We used Front Runner Stratchits and other heavy-duty straps to safely secure items like a Pro Eagle off-road jack, five-gallon water container, large fire extinguisher, essential vehicle recovery gear, tools, and camping supplies like our MSR tent and Cawood Back Packer Guy Line Anchors. We also packed along personal items which included nearly two week’s of clothing and my Ogio Tactical Renegade Pro LE backpack and Matador Seg28 bag (currently being reviewed for later OVR articles).

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Mercedes Lilienthal in the driver’s seat at the 2023 Rebelle Rally. image: Nicole Dreon

How Did Team Nor’Wester #211’s 2024 Pilot TrailSport Fare?
The stock 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine making 285 hp and is paired with a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission. It is a three-row seven-passenger SUV with plenty of power for most off-pavement situations. During the Rebelle Rally, paddle shifters were used to provide instant gear changes when needed, offering a bump in RPMs to conquer even the most challenging terrain.

The TrailSport’s all-wheel-drive system always kept our team on the straight-and-narrow path. This is true, especially when trails got sloppy or deeply rutted. Our Pilot TrailSport featured 8.3” of ground clearance, which came in handy when cresting hundreds of off-camber washouts, rocky climbs, and other trail impediments.

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The only upgrade on Team 211’s Pilot was a set of Maxxis RAZR A/Ts tires. The tires did their job well. image: Regine Trias

On the interior, the 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport offered a spacious, comfortable space. Heated seats kept us warm during cold pre-dawn startups. An easy-to-manage climate control system made it a cinch to independently change interior temperatures when the desert heat turned up to over 100-degrees. Additionally, insanely large cupholders were strategically placed throughout the cabin, offering up a wide array of hydration opportunities while competing.

In short, our bone-stock 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport was an off-pavement crossover champion. The seven-seater displayed zero mechanical issues and ran like a top during the intensive eight-day event. My only wish was that clips would replace the long Phillips screws that kept the air filter secured in the engine bay. This would shorten the time taken to service it after dusty trail days were done.

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Seasoned Rebelle Rally competitors, Liz Long and Hillary Tate, piloted a customized 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport at the 2023 edition of the annual event. image: Paolo Baraldi

Team 208: 2024 modified Honda Pilot TrailSport
Seasoned Rebelle Rally competitors, Liz Long and Hillary Tate, piloted a customized 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport for this year’s event. Armed with custom front and rear bumpers, a beefy front skid plate and other off-road goodies, the duo placed fourth among 10 crossover teams.

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From left to right, Team 208’s Hillary Tate and Liz Long and Team 211’s Emily Winslow and Mercedes Lilienthal with their Honda Pilot TrailSports. image: Heather Lewis

Ohio-based Liz Long is a chassis reliability test engineer at the Honda Auto Development Center (ADC). Hillary Tate is a project administrator of design and construction for Honda facilities across North America. The pair is part of the Honda of America Racing Team (HART), a racing program run by U.S. Honda associates.

“I have participated with the HART Rebelle team for three years,” said Tate. “The first year, I helped to set up the vehicle. In 2022 and 2023, I was a driver/navigator. In 2023, I navigated the day we got a stage win, in the very difficult sand dunes.”

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Hillary Tate helps guide Team 208 through the Rebelle Rally course. image: Ernesto Araiza

For Tate, it was a great year. “Despite the grueling course that was so greatly affected by the flooding in California all year, all three of Honda’s entries were unfazed by the tough terrain.”

Though modified, Team 208’s 2024 Pilot TrailSport’s standard equipment gave them the capability they needed off-road. It has high-strength-steel skid plates, i-VTM4 torque vectoring all-wheel drive with trail torque logic, and a handy TrailWatch camera system.

“You still get what you expect from a Honda, with so much space for our gear and tools—so much that we can still see out of our rear window, which isn’t common for Rebelle entries—along with excellent safety ratings and build quality. For someone going far off the beaten path, it’s really a no-brainer given the capability and peace of mind.”

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Serena Halterman and Nicole Rotondo head off in their 2024 Passport TrailSport. image: Ernesto Araiza

Team 212: 2024 customized Passport TrailSport
Rookies Serena Halterman and Nicole Rotondo are HPD trackside race engineers for INDYCAR and were new to the Rebelle Rally. Sol Cal’s Honda Performance Development (HPD), the North American racing arm of American Honda, built the customized Passport TrailSport for the team.

“The best way to learn a new skill, like navigating, is to throw yourself into it fully,” stated Rotondo. “The Rebelle was the perfect place to learn a new skill because it puts you in a situation where improving that skill is your sole focus.”

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Serena Halterman and Nicole Rotondo verify navigation points at the 2023 Rebelle Rally. image: Tim Sutton

Since the team was both navigating and driving, they made their decisions together. They shared rewards and consequences of those decisions “fairly equally.”

“We would each try pick up the slack where we needed to. We realized early on that it was a pretty overwhelming amount of information to process. Things would likely get missed and mistakes would be made, so we divided the work and focused on working on solutions together when things didn’t go to plan,” Rotondo explained.

As the pair learned the process, they said their Passport was “incredible and tough as nails” during the competition. “It dealt with any terrain we threw at it. We were most impressed with the all-wheel drive system and our Maxxis RAZR all-terrain tires.” To Rotondo, the Passport was tough, dependable, and incredibly well-engineered.

“Serena and I worked really well together, even through the little conflicts along the way,” Rotondo said. “In fact, I think we’re closer friends than ever. We received Rookie of the Year for our class, and we’re proud of how we fared against more seasoned competitors.”

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2023 Rebelle Rally is in the books for these Honda SUVs. image: Mercedes Lilienthal