The event was not a special stage rally until 1977.* It was conducted as what is now known as an ‘A to B’ trial, with transport sections followed by competitive sections and cars started at two minute intervals to cater for dust. Timing was to the forward minute, although on the daylight ‘stages’ from 1974 timing was to the forward quarter minute. A time allowed was set for each section, and the time by which competitors exceeded the time allowed was the penalty time, expressed as points (with each minute, or part thereof, attracting a one point penalty. Penalties also applied for entering or leaving controls in the wrong direction. Often a crew did this tactically to try to stay within the late time limit, as crews had to report to at least seventy-five (75%) of main controls in the correct direction within the late time limit to be classified as a finisher). The limit came into force as from 1974. Before that, a sole competitor in a class could start each division, and then return to the comfort of the motel, work out what the finish time should be and then book in at that time, never leaving Port Macquarie (or go out spectating). From 1977 100% of the course had to be achieved to be a finisher.
*The first special stage rally was organised by Peter Lang in the ACT in 1973, where the penalty time was the elapsed time timed to the second. This was the Don Capasco Rally, which of course, became the famous Castrol Rally. It was won by Bob Watson in a Renault Alpine.
Roads were NOT closed to non-rally traffic, which started to become a problem when more and more competition sections were conducted in the afternoon. From 1977, when ‘special stages’ were introduced to conform with the requirements of the FIA Drivers Cup, timing was to the second, but target times were still used, so time penalties were calculated for times in excess of the target times, but were not expressed as ‘points’.
From 1977 the stages were defined as ‘special stages’ scheduled to be run darkness on roads not closed to non-rally traffic, and ‘daylight special stages’ schedule to be run in daylight on roads closed to non-rally traffic. This meant that if the running schedule was delayed, or competitors were running exceedingly late so that they were in daylight in the morning, competitors were not to exceed a speed of 50km/h. This didn’t happen very often.