Sebastien Ogier admitted that he had pretty much given up on winning Rally Italy just a few stages into the event.
The World Rally Championship leader struggled with running first on the road last Friday and was as low as 10th on the opening loop.
He fought back to second by Saturday morning and then took the lead when Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala made a mistake and damaged a wheel at the end of leg two.
"It was not an easy weekend for me. We pushed to the maximum during two days," said Ogier.
"The first one was really frustrating. Even though we were pushing we were losing time all the time and at the midday [service] on Friday I was quite disappointed and was thinking maybe this weekend I would fight for a podium and maybe not more.
"Finally in the afternoon the conditions were much better and not so big disadvantage to open the road on this second loop so we climbed to the second place also thanks to many mistakes from a few drivers."
Until Latvala's Saturday incident, he had looked set to defeat Ogier for the second straight rally and make further inroads into the Frenchman's points lead.
Ogier admitted there is little to choose between the title rivals on pace at present.
"It was very hard to take back the 20 seconds we lost on day one because Jari is very strong and he's on a very good speed," said Ogier.
"We've got exactly the same car, which is a really good one, and it's quite hard to make the difference."
Most of Ogier's rally victories with VW have featured a maximum 28-point score as he also won the Powerstage, but he was defeated by VW team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Latvala on the Italy finale.
"A few journalists were so surprised saying 'why did you not win the Powerstage?'" said Ogier.
"I always say before the Powerstage I will drive fast but not to the maximum. Nobody believes me.
"I did my best but Andreas was really good and to be honest I'm happy with this single extra point. We got the win and that's the main thing."