The 24 Hours of Le Mans the inspiration behind Michel Vaillant (4) - 1997
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The 24 Hours of Le Mans the inspiration behind Michel Vaillant (4) - 1997

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Yves Courage, the Le Mans-born constructor and former driver, commissioned Studio Graton for the livery of the prototype entered in the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans. The renamed Courage-Vaillante sported the number 13 – Courage’s lucky number and a nod to the Michel Vaillant album Le 13 est au départ, which immerses the reader in the atmosphere of the iconic 24-Hour race in the early sixties. Powered by a 3-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six Porsche engine, the Courage-Vaillante C41 was driven by Frenchmen Didier Cottaz and Jérôme Policand, and Belgian Marc Goossens.

Le Mans legend is peppered with tales of resourceful ingenuity in the face of adversity and the 1997 race was no exception. After qualifying in thirteenth place (what else?), the Courage Vaillante was beset by an electronic issue that was resolved by the team’s physio who had the bright idea of squirting the problematic component with a muscle spray! The operation was repeated at every pit stop as Cottaz, Policand and Goossens climbed back up the field to fourth place overall. In the prototype class, the Courage-Vaillante was second only to the outright winners, the Joest-Porsche TWR driven by Stefan Johansson, Michele Alboreto and Tom Kristensen, who celebrated the first of his nine Le Mans wins on his debut! A scenario worthy of a Michel Vaillant album and a dream come true for the character’s creator, Jean Graton, who watched the race from the garage of “his” #13 Courage-Vaillante.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO – Translated from French by David Goward

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 14 & SUNDAY 15 JUNE 1997. The logo of the Vaillante marque, created by Michel Vaillant’s father Henri, can be seen on the nose of the Courage #13 car.