But as the World Rally Championship rolled into Japan, three of its stars decided to go native and learn how to make sushi. As their instructor, a noted chef in one of Sapporo’s best sushi restaurants pointed out, the first and most important ingredient is a sharp knife.
Sharpening the knife is almost a ceremony in itself, and strapping on their Japanese headscarves, Mikko, Dani and Matthew set about the task diligently. Unlike most other knives, Japanese sushi knives - made out of carbon steel - are sharpened on one side only, allowing for cleaner cuts and more precision.
Luckily, rally drivers are renowned for their accuracy: essential when it comes to threading their cars through the tight and twisty stages of Japan, where some roads are only just wider than the cars.
The second essential ingredient for sushi is ultra-fresh fish, as one souvenir of Japan that people want to avoid coming away with is botulism. Sushi can be made from snapper, amberjack, mackerel and salmon, but most commonly tuna - which is what the drivers got stuck into first.
The art of the sushi chef consists of slicing the fish finely and then wrapping it via a precise recipe with nori (seaweed) as well as sushi rice. A number of different toppings are also added, including wasabi: Japanese horseradish with the fiery temperament of an erupting volcano.
“Can I try some of that?” asked Dani, swallowing it liberally before realising the error of his ways. Luckily there was plenty of other work to do, with the three drivers chopping, slicing, shaping and arranging, before presenting their work on beautiful China plates for scrutiny by their sushi master.
Other sushi ingredients can include sea urchin, squid, eel and octopus but to be defined as sushi the raw fish has to be served with something as a parcel: otherwise it would simply be sashimi.
It’s not so easy to put everything together, so sushi chefs often use a bamboo mat to lay their ingredients on, which they then can curl up and use as rolling pins to guarantee a perfect cylinder of oriental deliciousness. Other sushi can simply be rolled into a ball by hand to create temarizushi - a favourite among sushi beginners because it’s easy to make and carries a smaller risk of amputated fingers.
Then it was time for sampling. Most of the drivers are pretty keen on sushi as it represents that rare phenomenon: health food that actually tastes good. Petter Solberg always insists on it during rallies, although on this occasion the Norwegian was feeling unwell, so he couldn’t come to the sushi masterclass. And no, it was nothing to do with anything he’d eaten.
Japan’s most famous food may be virtuous but its origins are far from wholesome: sushi was originally conceived as a quick and convenient snack to be eaten in gambling dens. Who said that vice doesn’t pay?