The Belgian successfully defended his win on the flowing, high-speed Catalan event from two seasons ago by a margin of 24.1 seconds from Toyota's Elfyn Evans.

However, a near-perfect weekend that ended with Neuville bagging four extra points by setting the second fastest time on the end-of-rally power stage was overshadowed by events leading up to it.

Video footage shared on social media prior to 'Riudecaynes 2' shows his co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe pushing the car towards the regroup area when, suddenly, smoke and then fire billows from the exhaust. 

They eventually got going to complete the stage and chalk up Neuville's sixth Tarmac win as a World Rally driver, although the starter motor problem meant he was not in a celebratory mood at the finish.

"I am relieved to be at the end," said Neuville. "It was a tough weekend but we fought very hard. We had a good clean run and until near the end everything was perfect. 

"Unfortunately, lots of stress before the last stage - again. I am really disappointed about that because otherwise the weekend would have been perfect and nice, but now it isn't. I don't know what to say to be honest."

Hyundai's i20 Coupe WRC has been plagued with teething issues this season; Ott Tanak experienced a similar situation before the last stage of Rally Greece with the team having to investigate suspected electrical problems after Rally Kenya and Rally Estonia respectively.

Second place for Evans ensures the 2021 drivers’ title will be decided at Rally Monza in five weeks’ time. He led by close of play on Friday and will no doubt be thinking what might have been had the set-up changes applied to his Yaris yesterday not backfired on him.

With the Welshman’s confidence in the car’s balance shot, his missed out on the chance to strengthen his bid for a maiden World Rally Championship crown given that title rival Sebastien Ogier lost out on the final podium spot.

“I’m pleased in one sense but quite frustrated on another,” said Evans, who was third fastest in the final stage.

“It was still a pretty solid job and I think if you take one-two in a row [victory in Finland and second in Spain] it’s not a bad set of results but, of course, we are fighting a bit of a cause here so it’s not what we really wanted.”

Ogier was embroiled in an intense dog-fight with hometown hero Dani Sordo throughout Saturday and that spilled over into Sunday.

Just 1.2 seconds separated them before today’s opener which was held in the dark and Sordo applied his local knowledge to telling effect to jump past the eight-time champion. Three more fastest times pushed his half-second buffer up to 6.8 seconds by the end of the rally.

Ogier - who heads to Monza 17 points to the good over Evans - attempted to put a brave face on fourth place, saying: “It’s fun for the Championship! Of course, I was targeting higher but for some reasons it didn’t happen.”

Kalle Rovanpera put the puncture and high-speed off-road moment from Saturday firmly behind him to close out fifth place, 2 minutes 45.4 seconds in front of M-Sport Ford's Gus Greensmith.

Oliver Solberg was the leading 2C driver and equalled his best ever WRC result in seventh, with team-mate Nil Solans 8.2 seconds behind in eighth.