24h Le Mans
08/03/2018 12:01

Michel Vaillant and the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans – between fiction and reality

The new Michel Vaillant “Art Strip” depicts the most famous racing driver in Franco-Belgian comic history making his Le Mans début in 1957. To mark the launch, we look back on this fictional adventure set in the context of a true race, and some of the events of that year.

Michel Vaillant and the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans – between fiction and reality

The latest Michel Vaillant drawing to be produced in picture format is taken from La 24e heure, set during the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Michel Vaillant, the Le Mans rookie – The comic hero made his Le Mans début in the 1957 race, the year that the character first appeared in print. La 24e heure was the fourth of five four-page stories published in the Tintin comic magazine, created in 1946. It was also the first of a long series of personal exploits at the iconic race born out of the imagination of Jean Graton. At 5 o’clock on the Sunday morning, Vaillant careered off the track while in hot pursuit of the race-leading Ferrari. After taking almost half an hour to dig his car out of a bank, Vaillant returned to the action. However, he had dropped back to ninth when he handed over to teammate Mansart. A dramatic fightback ensued to bring the pair back up to second position. An admiring onlooker quipped: “That young scamp will end up World Champion one day!

Jaguar all the way!  – In the actual 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans, the British manufacturer swept up to claim its third win in a row, and the fifth since 1951. It marked a second successive triumph for Ron Flockhart, partnering Ivor Bueb, who had himself tasted victory in 1955 with Mike Hawthorn. Ninian Sanderson, Flockhart’s teammate for the 1956 win, finished runner-up with John Lawrence to secure a one-two for Ecurie Ecosse. Five Jaguar D-Types made the top six, with the factory Ferrari 315 S of Stuart Lewis-Evans and Martino Severi the odd one out in fifth. The top ten featured no fewer than seven past and future 24 Hours winners: Flockhart, Bueb, Sanderson, Paul Frère, Duncan Hamilton, Masten Gregory and Lucien Bianchi. Further back in fifteenth place was another rookie who went on to rewrite the history of motorsport. For his 24 Hours in 1957, Jack Brabham teamed up with British driver Ian Raby (Cooper), before partnering Stirling Moss the following year (Aston Martin) and returning to Le Mans in 1970, sharing a Matra with François Cevert. In the meantime, he became the first Formula One world champion in a rear-engined single seater (1959-60), and subsequently the only one in history to win the title in his own car (1966).

1957 was also the year that... – Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio won his fifth (and fourth consecutive) Formula One world title, with a fantastic victory in the German Grand Prix on 4 August one of the high points of the season. This record remained unbeaten until Michael Schumacher clinched his sixth title in 2003. Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in on 20 January for his second term as President of the United States. The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite – Sputnik 1 – into orbit on 4 October. On the music scene, future Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time at a church fête in Liverpool (6 July), and the musical West Side Story opened in New York (26 September). Meanwhile, Broadway joined Hollywood in mourning the death of Humphrey Bogart (14 January).

Click for more information (in French only) on  Michel Vaillant Art Strips.

Photo: This picture of Michel Vaillant speeding through the Le Mans night in 1957 will look great on any living room or office wall.

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