SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi lived up to his home billing with a spectacular wheel-banging charge to seventh place in the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
It was the best performance by a Japanese driver at Suzuka since Takuma Sato finished fourth for BAR Honda in 2004 and one that gave the crowd plenty to cheer after the recent exit of Japanese teams.
Some 3,000 fans in “Kamui Kobayashi Corner”, a sold-out grandstand section between turns two and three, were treated to a stunning late surge but the driver himself played down his performance.
“Basically, we scored points,” he told a throng of Japanese media in the paddock, also noting the eighth-place finish of team mate Nick Heidfeld.
“It was very difficult due to our starting position, but such a result at the Japan Grand Prix is good.”
“I`m very pleased for the Japanese fans who watched an exciting race,” said Kobayashi, Toyota’s reserve driver last year, after showing all his fighting spirit to climb from 14th on the grid.
“It was really something to come back here and race for the first time in seven years in front of my home crowd.” The rookie’s six points caught the attention of the media and drew praise from his team.
“Kamui was simply incredible in his home race. The way he overtook several competitors was absolutely spectacular,” declared team CEO Monisha Kaltenborn.
The son of a sushi deliveryman, Kobayashi’s success this season has earned him a contract extension with Sauber for 2011.
With Toyota and Honda no longer in the sport, and Bridgestone soon to depart, Japan had been in a desperate need of a driver to maintain national interest.
Kobayashi said he did not feel any extra pressure at Suzuka, but was aware of how important his success was to keep the sport on the Japanese radar.
He thanked the fans in his corner but admitted he had been too focused on his driving to see them during the race.
Editing by Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org