Phillip Island in 2023 will be remembered for two events: the incessant rain and wind that was even able to stop the MotoGP and, halfway through, Tony Arbolino’s victory where, under the adverse weather, he resisted and bit the bullet, while his rivals lost control of their bikes against “the roar of Phillip Island.”
A victory for the “Shark” from Garbagnate that he was waiting for since Le Mans when, at the beginning of the season, the Marc VDS team rider placed his bike in the standings ahead of the prodigal son, Acosta. Four races from the end of the championship, Arbolino is still the Spanish rider’s main rival in the race for the title, with 56 points separating them. But the Tiburon prefers to get ahead with his bike rather than get ahead of himself. Passion, work, and humility are his key words.
Before the race was stopped, the Italian rider was leading solo by a large margin.
“The track conditions were really terrible,” Tony began. “It’s true that I was gaining a lot of ground, but I also risked a lot. There were several episodes in which I was scared I’d fall. The feeling I had starting from the very first laps was great. I knew right away that I could be competitive. What’s too bad is that the points awarded today are only half. Rules are rules, but it’s still a victory. Before the red flag, the conditions on the track were beyond the limit. The risk was high, especially in the first sector. My only thought in those last laps was to bring the victory home.”
Before the red flag, you had a 15-second lead. You were alone against the storm.
“Yes. Today I felt really good in the race. I had good feelings when it was wet. I also had them when it was dry, but maybe not at the same level as Aldeguer, who was on another level this weekend. These are things you have to accept. The key is to be positive, humble, and keep working well. Results and good things will come.”
The Marc VDS rider experienced the weather conditions worsen on Phillip Island firsthand.
“At first, it was just a bit of wind and rain. The track started to lose grip. With each lap, things got worse. Continuing would've been really dangerous.”
Some Turns, like 4 and 7, turned out to be particularly dangerous, and many riders ended up falling after not even half a race. While the MotoGP was moved to Saturday, the Moto2 riders had to get on their bikes on Sunday as scheduled. An unapologetic, thought-provoking concern.
“Personally, the most risky point of the track was exiting at turn one. It’s true, sometimes we feel that we count less as a class than the MotoGP. But maybe that’s how it should be. The MotoGP is the most important category. After all, it’s the goal of all of us riders to get there. If the conditions had remained those of the first laps, we would’ve finished the race. It wasn’t worse than Thailand last year. It was a decision we accepted.”
This was a victory for Tony that he was chasing since Le Mans, which also comes after facing several problems.
“It played hard to get,” the Shark said jokingly. “This season, we had ups and downs. It was something we really needed. In the end, it was a painful victory. The conditions were difficult for everyone, so I’m very proud of how I managed the race. Of course, getting only half the points was half a rip-off, but we have to accept it,” he joked again.
So, even if they were only half, those points were important, four races from the end, in a championship perspective where Arbolino is the main contender for the title behind Acosta, who started from the back at Phillip Island.
“The important thing for me is just to do well in the race, like we did today. I don’t think too much about the championship or Acosta. We only have to focus on our performance. But I’d like to have a head-to-head with him when it’s dry.”
Tony’s contract with Marc VDS for next year seems to have put his aspirations for the MotoGP on hold. Something that might have affected his performance in this second half of the championship.
“That could be. Anything can have an influence in this world,” Tony confessed. “But I also think it would’ve been difficult to do more than we did this year. At the beginning of the year, we started off great. In the middle of the season, we all know that we made mistakes, but it’s part of the game.”
One last thing: you’re the Shark from Garbagnate. What better race than this, in wet conditions, for a victory? Would you really have kept racing without the red flag?
“Ha!” Tony laughed. “The real shark still prefers to race when it’s dry! At that moment, though, I didn’t want to stop at all, even if it was risky. Racing is my passion. Doing it as the leader of a race... you don’t want it to ever end.”