1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X
1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X . Click image to enlarge

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Budget Racing, the Canadian Way: Part one

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Review and photos by James Bergeron

Photo Gallery:
1995 Dodge Stratus

(This is the second instalment by CarTalkCanada editor, James Bergeron, about his attempt to go winter racing on a budget of under $500. Click here to read his first article.)

Ottawa, Ontario – It was a chilly November morning. Lucky for us (my co-driver Alex Liculescu and myself) the Sun did come out to play or it would have felt much worse than the 0 degrees Celsius reading on the thermometer. Today was the day we were going to test out the Dodge racing machine – the mighty Stratus. we crossed our fingers she would hold up.

We arrived at the rally-x event, a dedicated field in the countryside. Clay and sand were in abundance, but because of the snowfall a few days earlier, mud was more the order of the day. Twenty-two competitors came out to brave the elements and the mud.

Our competitors showed up in a wide variety of vehicles, like BMWs, Subarus and even one Lancia. Some of the competitors were brave enough to bring along their daily drivers while others, like us, were there with cars we were not overly concerned about damaging, or needed for the drive home.

1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X
1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X . Click image to enlarge

We hadn’t really done much to prepare the Stratus for the day. This is budget racing after all, so we checked the oil (it actually needed two litres so I topped her up), we torqued the lug nuts down and removed loose items from the trunk and interior and we were ready to go.

Other than the wear and tear on the vehicle, rally-x is a fairly safe sport (like all motor sports there are risks but they are kept to a minimum and all safety regulations are followed). The course – a mud track with jumps was slowed down by chicanes in the form of pylons to reduce the speeds and ensure everyone had a safe and enjoyable day.

For our event, cars were classed in four categories: front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive non-turbo, and all-wheel drive turbo. Each competitor would navigate the track, one vehicle at a time, and be timed. At the end of the day, all six of a competitor’s timed runs would be accumulated to determine each racers ranking overall and within their class. Hitting cones would result in a four-second penalty and going off-course (the wrong way around the cones) would result in a DNF (did not finish). Since the times were cumulative, DNF times were scored by using your slowest time of the day and adding 15 seconds – needless to say going off course was something you did not want to happen if you planned on finishing in a podium spot.

1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X
1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X . Click image to enlarge

Alex and I went out guns-a-blazing – no mercy for the Stratus, we wanted to make sure she was strong. Alex had the pleasure of making the first run in the car, and when he came back everything looked well except for some plastic shielding hanging from the bottom of the car – no biggie.

After my first run, well, forget the plastic piece hanging from the car: I ran right over a tire on course, after which that plastic piece no longer existed. Again we were not too concerned – actually we were not concerned in the least.

Alex and I continued to drive the Stratus for four more runs; the Stratus was running like a top, taking the beating of a lifetime. We were doing quite well: the Stratus was not only performing well mechanically, its soft suspension and weighty front end was allowing us to be competitive.

The only problem we were having was the sheer amount of mud being flung up onto the windows – it made it very difficult to see. But everyone was having this problem and honestly, it made it fun!

It wasn’t until my fifth run that things went a little downhill. I finished my run and looked down at the dashboard to see the oil light on. I quickly shut off the engine and coasted to a stop in the paddock area. Thoughts went through our minds – a punctured oil pan, perhaps?

1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X
1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X
1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X
1995 Dodge Stratus Rally-X . Click image to enlarge

It turned out the oil filter was punctured; it became obvious to us Dodge did not design the 1995 Stratus for rally-x: the oil filter was one of the lowest pieces on the vehicle, hidden formerly under that long-lost plastic shield.

With no oil in the engine we drove her onto the trailer. Yes, that sounds crazy but we didn’t have many other options at the time. We headed home to wash the 20 pounds of mud from the underside and body and to assess the engine damage. After a new oil filter was affixed and the engine replenished with life-giving oil, she started right up like she was new again. Way to go ol’ girl! Cost for repairs? Only $20 for oil and filter and $5 for the power wash at a local wash booth.

Our rally-x experience turned out to be exactly what we needed for the upcoming winter snow-x series. We now knew what the weakness of our vehicle was – the oil filter!

I can be a little resourceful if need be: I began searching for some steel to build a skid plate of some sort – a flat piece of metal – to cover the oil pan, oil filter and power steering belt, pieces of the car that are all low and susceptible to damage from chunks of ice or rocks.

A little bit of work and a stroke of luck in finding a dead dryer, we had a skid plate screwed to the bottom of the Stratus to protect it from unwanted damage that could potentially kill it quickly – running with no oil can’t be a good thing… can it?

So we are ready for the winter – let’s hope for some cold weather and snow to make our field just west of Stittsville a winter wonderland for these Canadian racers.

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