Eight days before, Alex Tagliani was king of the world: "I think I'll be pinching myself until I go to bed," he'd said after winning pole position in the Indy 500, adding: "I wanted this one so bad!"
The performance of the #77 Bowers & Wilkins Sam Schmidt Motorsport car had surprised everyone from the very beginning of Opening Day. It started fast, and got faster. Everyone expected the Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Autosport cars to blow it away to one side at some point in the build up to qualifying, but none of them could.
Nor could they stop Tagliani from taking the top position on Pole Day itself, and finally it dawned on everyone that this was no lucky fluke but a serious, race-winning contender for victory in the centennial 2011 Indy 500.
'This is a reward for Sam as well," said Tagliani of the inspirational, highly regarded and well-loved team owner Sam Schmidt. "He got involved and helped to continue it. He's an amazing team leader"
Unfortunately Race Day would prove bitter sweet for Schmidt: one of his extended stable of cars was indeed in victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it wasn't Alex Tagliani.
It started well: after losing the lead at the start to Scott Dixon, Tagliani wrestled it back on lap 9 and led for 20 of the first 34 laps. "[The] car was fairly competitive early in the race,” said Tagliani. "We had a really good, balanced car early on. It was nice to drive it ... Early on the car was so good I thought we had a shot at it all race long."
But then suddenly Tagliani was falling back down the field, his rhythm broken as he tried to fight the car around the track and return it to something like its former imperious form.
"All of the sudden, it became very loose. I couldn't really get it back on track, you know, with all the tools I had in the car. So we were struggling with a very nervous car."
They tried to address the problems during the next round of pit stops, but to no avail. "In one of our pit stops we thought we fixed it, but we didn't. It's a shame," he said. "It's something we're going to have to look at. I don't know why exactly the car became loose."