The novel “The Martian Race” by Gregory Benford was published for the first time in 1999.
The rocket that’s supposed to carry the first astronauts to Mars explodes at launch and the immediate consequence is the decision by the USA President to give up such attempts to focus on missions in the vicinity of the Earth. However, the goal of sending humans to Mars is kept alive by the announcement of a $30 billion prize for whoever can accomplish that feat and bring astronauts back to Earth.
Billionaire John Axelrod intends to win the prize and earn more money thanks to the Mars mission and its results. The Consortium he put together to finance the feat is the first to send four people to the red planet, but to win the prize they must be the first to return. Another team sent by a European-Asian collaboration follows them and all the humans arrived on Mars encounter various problems they need to solve in order to return to Earth.