The Martian Race is a 1999 book by Gregory Benford (paperback published in 2001). Benford is a physicist and an excellent writer of science-based "hard SF," and this book is no exception. Its subject is a near-future race for Mars in pursuit of a $30 billion "Mars Prize," and it is heavily based on Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan (although a second party in the race uses a somewhat different approach). I read the book last summer, but it came up recently in a discussion over at MarsDrive. This led me to dig it out, and with my recent interest in the Mars for Less add-on in development for Orbiter (and Mars in general), I've decided to read it again, probably next weekend on a long flight to Australia (where one of the Mars astronauts in this book happens to be from).
Skimming through the book just now, I was reminded of how rich and (literally) gritty this book is -- not only in the science, but in the details of early Mars exploration done on a (relatively) shoestring budget with hardware that is basically what we can do today. It's not easy. The gritty and corrosive "pesky peroxides" of the fine Martian dust get into everything. Hardware breaks down. People are injured. But the pingo hills finally yield water (pingos are buried mounds of ice as found in Earth's arctic regions). There are real surprises, and even the seemingly less probable surprises are handled in a plausible way. This is a really good book that I'm looking forward to reading again.
Note: The picture is the cover of the 1999 hardcover, but I like it better than the cover of the paperback edition I have.