Simulating a motorsport event online is very easy nowadays, from a 30 minute sprint to a 24 hour race with driver changes, especially on PCs. The world of console games, however, is a more restricted kettle of fish. A domain mainly to gratify your imagination in short 5 minute bursts with advanced weaponry against an contract army lead by someone wearing a virtual rendition of Kevin Spacey’s face, or even dominating the world of soccer being player-manager of the MK Dons. This isn’t then, an environment where you’d expect to be fending off slower Aston Martins and Ferraris in your Audi or Toyota (or vice versa), hurtling towards Indianapolis two hours at a time. For one online community, it has been a yearly routine.

The Online Racing Association (TORA), since 2007, has been running events via incarnations of the Turn 10 creation, Forza Motorsport for Microsoft’s Xbox consoles. Recent years have seen them branch out into PC simulators like iRacing and newer iterations of console racers such as Project CARS, Race Pro and Grid Autosport but their roots remain with Forza Motorsport. The story of endurance racing at TORA is as much one of the expansion of the organisation itself as one of the racing it plays host to throughout the year

TORA’s formative years were spent running sprint races for GT based machinery on Forza Motorsport 2. While there were iconic racing machines from the past decade like the Audi R8 P900 and the Ferrari 333SP, the majority of the game’s production based cars were the only vehicles capable of being fully customised mechanically and visually. This leading to the founding ‘TORA GT’ category that dominated the Forza online racing scene from 2009 to around 2012.

Forza Motorsport 3, however, made it easier to customise prototypes and the popular GT1 and GT2 machinery of the time. It became possible to enter “your own” LMP1 with alternative branding compared to the regular sight of a silver Audi or British racing green 007 Aston Martin. TORA played host to a plethora of ‘household’ virtual teams such as PLOW Motorsport, M&M Racing F4H Motorsport and others who grew alongside the community they now raced in. What was not foreseen was the development of such teams into entities that held as strong a presence in the virtual racing world as Team Joest, Red Bull or Ferrari do on the real track.

The rapid expansion in turn fired up the desire for longer races beginning initially with 75 minute single player enduros within TORA’s ‘own-brand’ Le Mans Series style events known as the ISCC.

The team behind TORA knew the potential for something even more ‘enduring’ was within reaching distance. They had always been passionate about Le Mans, indeed many had visited or even been involved in some of the great ‘round the clock’ races. It was this experience they were keen to bring to the virtual racing community.

Forza Motorsport made it possible to attempt long distance races, whether over time or distance, but it was never possible to replicate anything longer than a 4 hour event in one go. Equally difficult was for drivers to hand their car over to another as is the case in the real deal and also with newer PC simulators. Instead, the 24 hour race would be broken up into blocks of 2 hours, (originally 3 hours, but reduced to make it more accessible), giving the console world something close to the “stints” performed by those in the non-virtual world.

Teams would be made up of three drivers taking turns to do their ‘stints’ throughout the course of a race. The emphasis on teamwork came into sharp focus as the need to keep the car running at a certain pace and avoiding on track incidents was key. Strategy would also play a big role as teams worked out tyre and fuel strategies ahead of the events and planned their drivers stints accordingly. As each race took place, conversations on the TORA Community Forums began to sound very similar to those one would find in the garages and motorhomes of the major endurance races around the globe. Unlike the real world however, some drivers would opt to do the entire (or the majority) of these races on their own!

After a successful Sebring 12h in 2010 run in tandem with the real event in March, it was time to take on Le Mans for the first time. A Le Mans race had happened in 2009 albeit a single car with support from others and ultimately for charity. It had been this initial attempt that had proven the structure the TORA staff had used could be extended to a wider field.

The first Le Mans race ‘proper’ ran for just 2.4 hours but the multi-class racing was close and enjoyed by all who participated. A significantly longer follow up was a certainty.

The 2011 race had seen TORA expand into the broadcasting field. Le Mans came with live commentary for the first time and video streaming which, in a pre-Twitch tv era was a far more difficult prospect for console-based racing. A dedicated ‘race-hub’ on TORA’s website featured not only multiple feeds from the race but also a striking Spotter’s Guide and chat area. The hub received nearly 16,000 hits over the course of qualifying and the race with the coverage itself commentated on by TORA’s growing media team and special guest appearances.  While the coverage dropped off over night (in Europe at least) this was groundbreaking stuff! In all, three endurance events took place at Sebring, Le Mans and the Nordschleife.

Mentions live on air from the radiolemans.com team at both Sebring and Le Mans had boosted interest in the virtual enduros put on by an organisation that had by now secured the recognition of the MSA. This was proving to be a potentially groundbreaking period for the Association and sim racing in general.

2012 proved to be the watershed year for TORA’s endurance racing endeavours and is still widely regarded by many long standing members as the pinnacle of TORA racing on the Xbox 360. The organisers put on a four race calendar under the ‘TORA Endurance Championship’ title. Once again it would visit Sebring, Le Mans and Nurburgring (for an extended 8hr race after the previous year’s 24 lap effort).

With poor weather in the remaining hours, TORA enjoyed substantial interest from the Silverstone paddock who flocked to the Rogue Motorsport pits to keep warm and dry as much as enjoy time on the race rigs set up with Microsoft and GT Omega Racing!

2013 had all the hallmarks of another vintage year after the huge leap in interest and media coverage. However, with the staff team looking towards the future with the incoming Xbox One console and Forza Motorsport 5, there was an air of ‘going through the motions’ with this year’s TEC.

A number of new teams moved into the championship while long established drivers found new berths as older teams either disbanded or renamed themselves. Sebring would be a 1-2 for the Audi R18 e-tron quattro in the hands of Team Jeremy Kyle and CRA respectively.

Le Mans wound be won in sensational style by the aptly named F4H ‘Red Sonja’ team running not the Audi of that name but an Acura ARX-01B after the Sebring winning Audi #564 suffered a number of late night setbacks.

Perhaps of note by this point was the increased interest from real motorsport teams in the championship, either choosing to throw their support behind their virtual counterparts as Prodrive, Corvette and Rogue Motorsport would do or indeed choosing to enter themselves as Mission Motorsport demonstrated for the Nurburgring race.

The events continued to be well supported and the media team worked as hard as ever with expertly produced pre-race coverage and graphical additions that made the live streaming almost indistinguishable from real life. The casual viewer could enjoy the coverage via dedicated race hubs and streaming channels at a time when some of it’s real world counterparts were still getting to grips with the benefits of online coverage.

However, it was felt the current crop of sim racing options had been explored as far as they could. Something new was required to revitalise what had quickly become TORA’s blue riband championship therefore a change in formula was planned for the following year.

A fresh new outlook on a new, more powerful console with the promise of contemporary vehicles and new tracks was all the team needed to take the TEC to the top of the table once more but fate would have other plans.

2014 and 2015 proved to be rebuilding years for the TEC as plans to run the championship on the all new Forza Motorsport 5 title fell through. Following the launch of the Xbox One console and new Forza game the team quickly discovered that media support had taken an enormous step back from that which had been enjoyed over the previous three years thus reducing the potential fan engagement that had become a key part of the TEC formula. Furthermore, changes to the timing and scoring system within the simulation itself also raised questions as to how best to monitor race progress and produce accurate results.

In addition, high level staff changes and a community still largely based on the previous Xbox 360 meant it became clear that endurance racing at TORA was in danger of stagnating.

A new, fresh team was needed to revitalise not just the crowning TORA series but the organisation itself.

A final run of three races took place on the ‘last generation’ Xbox 360 console but the field was naturally smaller due to the number of racers who were making the switch over to the newer machine as 2014 ticked by. This meant many of the ‘big name’ teams and groups that had grown with TORA over the preceding three seasons sat out Le Mans for the first time as hopes for a return to form in 2015 would eventually bring them back. 26 teams still took the start but by TORA’s high standards this was a shadow of it’s former self.

2015 had looked to be the year the TEC returned with a bang using Project CARS and would also visit a few circuits not available before. However, a few small issues with the initial release of the title and the continued fallout from the deficient Forza Motorsport 5 created a level of apathy amongst the more seasoned sim racers that TORA’s staff couldn’t compete against.

When the news broke that Forza Motorsport 6 was due in the Autumn the decision was made to postpone a relaunch in favour of a full test and development process over the Winter. New staff signings and a more mature approach to what was physically possible for a volunteer group meant that the period since Forza 6’s release has been well spent testing everything required to make the next TORA Endurance Championship the event it deserves to be with a full strength organisational and support team behind it.

The following year the ‘Race Tech TORA Endurance Championship’ was back with Forza Motorsport 6, bringing with it superior media support, beautiful graphics, and a wider range of circuits and cars. The addition of night racing and weather added an extra level of immersion previously missing from the franchise.

The TEC team, headed by Collin Barring, set about a challenging series of events running through the year visiting eight of the world’s greatest circuits including TORA debuts at Daytona, Monza, Bathurst and Spa and total an unprecedented 144 hours of racing.

It proved a challenging year as running such a sizeable endurance calendar with a shrinking core team and the need for track specific car regulations meant additional work and organisation that hadn’t been a significant factor in the past. A technical Balance of Performance process was undertaken to ensure parity between the cars in each class. When new cars were added as part of monthly downloadable content (DLC) these were evaluated against the BoP and amendments made to their performance accordingly. This time consuming process in addition to day to day TORA operations often stretched things behind the scenes.

However, 2017 sees a complete change in how sportscar racing and endurance racing in particular has been approached. Rather than standalone events, the big races now form the highlights of larger series spanning the year. More specifically, the American Sports Car Championship (ASCC) which mimics the IMSA WeatherTech series and the TORA Endurance Championship which aims to bring WEC style racing to Forza.

Hopes are high for a very exciting and competitive season of sportscar racing at TORA in 2017, powered by Sportscarglobal.com

Matt Hunter.