Sepp Mannhalter II piloted his dad’s infamous #17 Alpina 2002 racer to victory in this year’s delayed 24hrs Le Mars endurance race. The race start was pushed back by 6 sols due the recent prolonged planetary-wide dust storm.
The race was given the go ahead only after lengthy deliberations by the race organizers, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), upon completing their full course survey within 36 hours of the storm clearing. Amazingly, there were no reported injuries, and while there was severe damage evident to the race-course in a few sections, it was deemed repairable.
Captured here trailing Sam Smith, then race leader, in the iconic BMW CCA Alpina 2002ti as they blast down the Burns Cliff flats, young timer Mannhalter had climbed the ladder to second, driving adeptly since having an unexpected late pit to swap out a stuffed quad-supercharger. The Burns Cliff sits at the base of the southeastern portion of the inner wall of "Endurance Crater."
Not 25 minutes later, and just 1 lap from the finish under the 24 hour clock, Mannhalter saw his opening and used his remaining M-KERs to sweep past and never look back. Third place went to the #91 Heidegger BMW, winner of last year’s Le Mars race. This was the young Mannhalter’s first victory in the FIA Galactic Endurance Championship. His father, best known for famously driving BMWs to victories - 2002s for Alpina, and 3.5 CSLs for Schnitzer - was obviously proud and glad he stayed for the race rather than returning home.
As expected, both participants and attendees to this year’s race saw reduced numbers since many caught transporters back to Earth in the short evacuation window just in advance of the approaching dust assault, some 40 hours before the original scheduled race start.
Sadly, some NASA assets were damaged or have lost due to the storm. Most significant is the news that the Mars Opportunity rover has stopped all communications. It’s location was severely blanketed from the storm. One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA's Opportunity rover mission ended after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars, providing vital logistics for the Le Mars races and 2002 expeditions, and helping lay the groundwork for NASA's understanding of the Red Planet. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail.
Opportunity, the trailblazing rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration. was designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.
EPILOGUE: Luckily the rescue party that was sent out found us, and were able to get us to a temporary shelter to ride out the monstrous storm. Still, it was no fun having to ride out the seemingly never ending winds away from base and the rest of our 2002 team. When the storm cleared and we were able to return to base, we found the majority of our fellow 2002ers had smartly taken the offer of the evacuation transports back home.
Our bonus for the ordeal is we were able to catch the delayed Le Mars race, which was fantastic again this year, and after we pretty much had the place to ourselves while awaiting the next transporters home.
Mars, what a trip!