|© AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
SUZUKA, Japan (AP) -- Kamui Kobayashi gave the home fans a thrill on Sunday by becoming the first Japanese driver to claim a podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix in 22 years.
The Sauber driver started from third on the grid and maintained his position to finish Sunday's race at the Suzuka circuit behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
"It hasn't sunk in yet, it is hard to believe -- I achieved my first podium in Suzuka," the 26-year-old Kobayashi said. "It was a fantastic race and we have been working really hard to get to this point."
Kobayashi held off a strong late challenge from McLaren's Jenson Button -- for his first-ever F1 podium, becoming the first Japanese driver on a podium here since 1990.
"It was a very tough race," Kobayashi said. "I got off to a good start but really had to fight and it took everything I had to hold off Jenson. To get a podium here in Japan in front of these great fans is fantastic."
Kobayashi prevailed by half a second to become the first Japanese since Aguri Suzuki to celebrate on the podium in front of home fans.
Takuma Sato was fifth in 2002 and fourth in 2004 at Suzuka.