Another Porsche factory supported car was a 917K entered jointly by Porsche/Audi of Austria and Martini & Rossi Racing of Saarbrücken. Martini had planned to have two 917s at Sebring like they had at Daytona in January but both team 917s were seriously damaged in accidents at that race and all they could bring to Florida in March was one 5-liter car with a 4-speed transmission while the Gulf cars had 5-speeds.
A Gulf Porsche 917 had again won the Daytona 24 in a close finish with a NART Ferrari 512 and some Ferrari fans were hoping for a repeat of the 1970 race when a Ferrari, driven by Mario Andretti, beat Porsche in the closest finish in Sebring history up to that time.
Ferrari would be well represented at Sebring in 1971 with five 512 series Group 5 cars (compared to three 917s) fielded by several independent teams but no factory 512s were entered because Enzo Ferrari had withdrawn all support for the 512. Instead he concentrated his limited resources on perfecting the 3-liter 312 PB racer.
Ferrari’s decision not to support a team of factory 512s was a direct result of the FIA’s decision to outlaw the iconic 5-liter 917 and 512 for the 1972 racing season and mandating an engine size of no more than 3-liters. While Porsche had the resources to support their 917s for one more year Ferrari did not and it was left up to the independents to carry the Ferrari banner in that regard.
The leading American independent Ferrari team for years had been the North American Racing Team (NART) founded by Luigi Chinetti but in 1971 Roger Penske usurped that title when he took a Ferrari 512S and upgraded it to 512M status and produced what many believed was the most beautiful and best prepared Ferrari car ever entered in a motorsports event.
At Daytona in January the Penske prepared 512 M, owned by Kirk F. White and sponsored by Sunoco, captured the pole and proved it was more than a match for the vaunted 917 Porsche. Only an unfortunate accident, resulting in major body and suspension damage, prevented it from winning but it did manage a third-place finish with Mark Donohue and David Hobbs driving. For Sebring, the car was totally rebuilt and Ferrari fans began having dreams of a repeat of Ferrari’s win over Porsche at Sebring in 1970.
NART had four Group 5 cars entered at Sebring including a 512M driven by Peter Revson and Swede Savage and two 512S’s driven by Sam Posey, Ronnie Bucknum, Chuck Parsons and David Weir. NART also had a 365GTB4 in the race running in the sports class (Group 5) because it didn’t qualify as a GT car. The Corvettes in the race however were considered GT cars. NART also had an older model 312 P entered as a prototype to be driven by Luigi Chinetti, Jr. and George Eaton. The enterprising and talented Chinetti created a new nose and rear deck for the car and it looked very much like the 312 PB being driven by Andretti and Ickx.