Kris Meeke may have missed out on a podium place but he called his Rally Australia performance "the strongest so far".
He said it was better than his third place finishes in Monte Carlo, Argentina and Finland because he was "fighting at the front" with the all-conquering Volkswagens of World champion Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala.
But a controversial 61-second penalty for cutting a corner during the Saturday leg dropped him away from the battle.
Penalised for cutting a corner? In a rally? Sounds absurd but it was introduced after Andreas Mikkelsen took a blatant shortcut through a cabbage field in Poland. Drivers were warned not to deliberately have all four wheels off the road.
But Meeke's misdemeanour was of an altogether different level. He was spotted in televised footage slicing through the inside of a corner and admitted to officials he had always intended to cut the corner but had approached it too quickly and ended up taking a bigger cut than planned.
He claimed he had not gained any time advantage but the stewards applied the penalty anyway, dropping him to fifth.
It was a cruel blow for Meeke, who led the rally for most of the Friday leg and had again been the only driver to challenge the supremacy of the Volkswagens. The penalty left Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen free to claim the first all-VW podium and secure the manufacturers' championship.
Meeke, teamed with co-driver Paul Nagle, quickly passed Ford's three-time Australia winner Mikko Hirvonen to climb back to fourth and finished just 26 seconds behind Mikkelsen despite being docked more than a minute.
Hirvonen took fifth with Hyundai's Hayden Paddon sixth after Meeke's team-mate Mads Ostberg suffered suspension damage on the penultimate stage and fell back to 16th.
Meanwhile, Daniel McKenna became the third Irish driver to be crowned British champion following the final round of the series in the Isle of Man – exactly 40 years after it was first won by Billy Coleman. But it was a finale that had almost as many twists and turns as the rally itself.
For championship purposes the Manx event had been divided into two separate rallies with McKenna starting 22 points ahead of Welshman Osian Pryce. But he crashed heavily during the first leg, allowing Pryce to close.
McKenna's team worked frantically to repair his Pirelli Citroen and get him back out for the second leg. And this time it was Pryce's turn to hit trouble when he ran wide.
His demise left McKenna to ease his way to the finish and join Coleman and Keith Cronin on the list of Irish BRC champions.