Casey Stoner arrived at the Japanese Grand Prix having been fastest in all three pre-season tests and then every track session at the Qatar season opener, but left Motegi third in the championship after brake problems in Sunday's race.
The Ducati Marlboro star was credited with second on the grid following Saturday's qualifying wash-out but, in total contrast to his usual form, struggled for speed in the early laps - dropping him back to seventh position.
The young Australian later explained that he had been unsure how hard to push after encountering a strong vibration from his front brake, but gradually gained enough confidence to ride around the issue.
“We have had the same issues as everybody else, I suppose, in that we haven't had time to set the bike up but all in all I think we were capable of at least matching the lap times of the front guys - we just lost too much time at the start,” reflected Stoner.
“On the warm-up lap I felt I a lot of chatter from the front brakes, they weren't smooth and I wasn't confident over the first five or six laps. I really didn't know what to do, I wasn't able to brake where I wanted to and I wasn't confident. Maybe I could have gone faster but I don't know how safe that would have been.
“Anyway, I lost a lot of positions at the beginning of the race and I spent too much time battling to get past.”
Stoner progressed to fifth by lap six, and then snatched fourth from Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso with two laps remaining. Stoner crossed the finish line 5.7sec behind winner Jorge Lorenzo, and set the fourth fastest race lap - just 0.158sec from the best, recorded by Lorenzo.
“When I got closer to the front it was a bit too late, unfortunately. I tried to stay as consistent as I could and when I got closer to Andrea I rode a bit harder because I saw it was possible to pass him,” said the 2007 world champion.
“So the race was not completely lost, we didn't lose that many points and this is a much better start to the season than last year, so we can definitely feel positive going into the next one,” he declared.
Stoner heads for next weekend's Spanish Grand Prix three points from Lorenzo and two points from reigning champion Valentino Rossi. After the first two rounds of last season, Stoner had been fourth in the championship and eleven points from the top.
However, Jerez - traditionally Stoner and Ducati's toughest track - was the second round last season, but Stoner will head to the 2009 event with added confidence after leading last month's pre-season test.
Stoner's team-mate Nicky Hayden was taken out on lap one by Yuki Takahashi.