Robert Kubica's domination of the Rallye du Var came to an abrupt end when he crashed on the penultimate stage.
Although the incident left their Citroen C4 WRC on fire, both Kubica and co-driver Emanuele Inglesi escaped unhurt.
Prior to the accident, Kubica had been on course for a commanding victory in the toughest event of his comeback so far.
He had quickly pulled out a two-minute lead over former World Rally Championship and Intercontinental Rally Challenge frontrunner Freddy Loix's Peugeot 307.
When Loix retired on Saturday, Kubica's advantage grew to over five minutes back to his mostly Super 2000 opposition. He was 5m48s clear with two stages to go when he crashed.
Kubica's exit handed victory to Cedric Robert. Audi Le Mans driver Romain Dumas claimed second in a Porsche 996, with S2000 WRC champion Craig Breen recovering from early delays to claim third for the Sainteloc Peugeot squad that ran his IRC programme.