The fictional hero racing for real at the Le Mans 24 Hours

Michel Vaillant may not be real but he could win the Le Mans 24 Hours this year...
Michel Vaillant
Michel Vaillant
© Media Pictures

It is fair to say motorsport can be stranger than fiction sometimes but for one team especially, this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours is essentially just that!

Introducing Michel Vaillant, a comic book hero that for the past 60 years has enthralled French (and global) audiences with his trials and tribulations on the international racing scene. From tragedies, to cliff-hangers, to joys to world championship wins, Vaillant has become a timeless (and apparently ageless) icon.

And for 2017 he is back at Le Mans 24 Hours for real... well, sort of.

A little background first. Vaillant was first conceived by French cartoonist Jean Graton in 1957 and originally published by Belgian comic book Le Lombard, famous for the world-renowned Tintin books and received widespread recognition when it was featured in the Tintin magazines.

Vaillant is the main protagonist and driver in the series, primarily competing in Formula 1 driving cars created by the family run Valliante business.

Over the next 60 years Valliant appears in more than 70 adventures taking in various thrills and spills of competing in Formula 1 and other series', such as the Indianapolis 500, Formula 3000, Paris-Dakar and - of course - Le Mans 24 Hours.

Aiming itself at an enthusiastic audience, the publication balances artistic licence with genuine realism, so while Vaillante Racing may be a constructor of various fictional vehicles, the rivals are very real and venues are very real.

Indeed, the way Vaillant has kept with the times and reflected the evolution in motorsport - even if Michel himself remains dashingly handsome at all times - has seen it secure the series a loyal and enthusiastic following, with many in the comic book and motorsport world fascinated by the family dramas, bitter rivalries, thrilling sub-plots and, of course, down to the wire racing.

Better still, this fiction has occasionally enjoyed pride of place in real life, so it is perhaps no surprise Vaillant's 60th anniversary takes place in the most iconic French event of them all this year.

Enter the two Rebellion Racing Oreca which will run in the distinctive white, blue and red of the Vaillante Racing team as they dice for glory in the LMP2 class this week.

Joining forces with Rebellion Racing is certainly no coincidence. In fact, Rebellion is the title of the latest Vaillant adventure detailing his return to the Le Mans 24 Hours after 10 years to - spoiler alert - avenge the death of his brother Jean-Pierre after taking his own life in suspicious circumstances.

Furthermore, the team has traditionally run the #13 as Michel 'dares to wear the number everyone else fears', a superstition that applies to real-life too.

Indeed, it isn't the first time the Valliante Racing team has competed for real at Le Mans after a La Courage Vaillante LMP was entered in 1997 and finished a respectable fourth. There was also a 2002 entry primarily intended for on location shooting for the live action Luc Besson-directed Michel Vaillant film, though the critical panning it received means it is usually omitted from Vaillante Racing's otherwise rich fictional/real history books.

More bizarrely, in 2012 former BTCC champion Alain Menu shaved his beard and raced a Vaillante Racing liveried Chevrolet Cruze under the name Michel Vaillant during the Portuguese round. The spirit of Michel Vaillant was with him enough that he went on to secure himself a race win...

Excitingly for fans of Michel, the Vaillante Rebellion Racing actually has a very good chance to secure that elusive Le Mans victory (albeit in the LMP2 class) having come into this week's race with a pair of podium finishes under its belt following the opening two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Better still, it is fitting that two of the team's drivers are Bruno Senna and Nicholas Prost, two drivers with legacies richer than any fictionalised tale.

We won't give away the ending of 'Rebellion' but who knows, perhaps Vaillante Rebellion Racing write its own thrilling storyline come Saturday and Sunday...

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