Thierry Neuville dominated his class to finish sixth overall on the Belgian Rally Championship finale, Spa Rally, at the wheel of a BMW M3 E30.
Driving the rear-wheel-drive machine that will be available to hire on rallies next year via his LifeLive company, Hyundai World Rally Championship pairing Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe were never headed in the NCM class throughout.
Peaking with fifth overall midway through the first leg on Saturday, Neuville dropped to seventh overnight but rose to sixth on Sunday and clung onto that position until the end.
His most competitive stage was the second pass of Moulin du Ruy where he was fifth fastest and just 13.3 seconds off the fastest time set by the leading Rally2 runners.
Although it was Rally Japan’s WRC2 winner Grégoire Munster who was fastest on that particular stage, it was this year’s Belgian champion Stéphane Lefebvre that won the event in his Citroën C3 Rally2.
Lefebvre had already wrapped up the title before the Spa Rally with victories on all seven rallies he’d started except last month’s Rally du Condroz-Huy – which the former Citroën WRC driver was leading before his transmission failed.
Lefebvre was challenged hard by Munster’s Hyundai, particularly on the first day where Lefebvre’s lead was just 14.6s with two night stages remaining. But a mistake from Munster on SS9 gave Lefebvre room to breathe, and his lead ballooned to 25.5s overnight.
All Lefebvre therefore had to do was consolidate his advantage, and that’s exactly what he did to record an eventual winning margin of 20.5s over Munster, despite the latter producing a blistering final stage time 9.1s quicker than anyone else.
Former Formula 1 driver and father of reigning F1 world champion Max, Jos Verstappen had been lying an impressive third overnight in his Citroën but an error on SS13 dropped him down the leaderboard.
That paved the way clear for fellow C3 Rally2 pilot Cédric De Cecco to climb onto the final podium of the season.
Gino Bux – co-driven by Neuville’s former navigator Nicolas Gilsoul – meanwhile clung onto second in the championship despite suffering a nightmare final round.
Bux crashed his Škoda on the shakedown stage on Friday – held in snow and icy conditions – and bruised his ribs.
He would start the rally but the pain proved too great and he pulled out after two stages. He had been lying third overall at the time.