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Garg Goes Flag-to-Flag En Route to Race 1 Victory in VP Racing Challenge at Sebring 17-Year-Old Mars Scores Final-Lap GSX Class Victory in KOHR’s Ford Mustang



SEBRING, Fla. – It may have looked easy from the outside, but Bijoy Garg suggests his flag-to-flag victory in Sunday morning’s 45-minute IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway was anything but.

“It wasn’t easy, definitely,” said the driver of the No. 3 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P320. I feel like we had pace on all the other guys. They just got through traffic a bit better, but overall, I’m super happy with the win. Our car felt great all race.”

It looked great all race also. After starting the race from the pole position, it didn’t take long for Garg to pull away from rest of the field.

By the end of the second lap, he already held a 3.7-second lead over Dan Goldburg in the No. 73 JDC MotorSports Duqueine D08. Garg eventually built an advantage of more than five seconds before the field caught up slightly once the leader encountered traffic.

Garg appeared to be cruising to victory until a full-course caution came out for debris from Tim Probert’s No. 65 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 with just under 14 minutes remaining in the race. The green flag flew once again with four and a half minutes left on the clock and Garg once again showed Goldburg and the rest of the field a clean pair of heels.

“I knew once I got a gap, I could hold it,” Garg said. “So, all I needed to do was get a good restart and I did that. Once I had the gap into (Turn) 1, I was like, ‘OK, time to go.’”

The victory was Garg’s first in the series. He crossed the stripe 3.479 seconds ahead of Goldburg, who saw his two-race series win streak snapped but he continues to lead the VP Racing Challenge LMP3 class points leader. Goldburg was also the highest-finishing Bronze-rated driver, enabling him to continue leading the Bronze driver point standings as well.

Antonio Serravalle rounded out the top three in the No. 18 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine. Lance Willsey – a 2022 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring winner in the LMP3 class – finished fourth on Sunday morning in the No. 30 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier ahead of Brian Thienes in the No. 77 Forte Racing Powered by USRT Ligier. Thienes had worked his way up from fifth on the starting grid to third on the opening lap, but an off-course excursion later in the race moved him back down the order.

Mars Takes GSX Win in Last-Lap Thriller

While the LMP3 class polesitter managed to go flag-to-flag en route to the victory, Gregory Liefooghe’s efforts to do the same in the GSX class came up one lap short.

Buoyed in part by the late-race full-course caution, 17-year-old Luca Mars managed to reel in Liefooghe’s No. 43 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M4 GT4 over the closing laps. And just after taking the white flag, Mars knew it was time to make his move in his No. 59 KOHR MOTORSPORTS Ford Mustang GT4.

“It was a long race there,” Mars explained. “Lapped traffic kind of separated me and Greg a little bit, but I had him coming into (Turn) 1. I had a run, so I set up and got a little over-under. I was able to stick my nose in so he couldn’t fully block. I just kind of put my car in there where he couldn’t get down and squeeze me. I just got around the corner, he went a little wide, and that was it.

“I still needed to defend him a little bit, but I came through Tower Corner, Turn 13, and I saw I had a gap, and I knew I was really good through the 14-15-16 complex, so I went through there, put my head down and knew I had a big gap coming down into 17, so I was pretty confident in the win coming down there.”

Mars’ margin of victory was a scant 0.292 seconds over Liefooghe. It was his first win, coming in his first VP Racing Challenge start ahead of this afternoon’s second race of the Sunday doubleheader.

“It’s a new series,” said Mars, who was one of many additions to a field that swelled to from 24 cars at Daytona to 30 this weekend. “It’s an awesome series. I’m super glad to be here this weekend. I had a great time out there. It was a long race, and I’m super looking forward to racing later today.”

After leading both practice sessions, taking the pole position, and leading all but the final lap, Liefooghe took second in his series debut. Sebastian Carazo claimed the final spot on the podium with a third-place run aboard the No. 27 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 718 GT4 RS CS.

Moisey Uretsky made it four different manufacturers in the top-four GSX positions, coming home fourth in the No. 44 Accelerating Performance Aston Martin Vantage GT4. Francis Selldorff filled out the top five in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4.

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South Florida News

Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Senate Bill (SB) 102, the Live Local Act



NAPLES, Fla. Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill (SB) 102, the Live Local Act, representing the largest investment for housing efforts in state history. The bill invests $711 million in multiple programs to expand the availability of housing, downpayment assistance, and focused support for military communities. The investment under this legislation is nearly double the investment made in 2022-2023, which was already the highest investment in 15 years. To learn more, click here.

“This legislation provides record support for Florida’s workforce and their families to help them live where they work, while also providing historic support for our military communities and the families living near military bases,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “I applaud Senator Passidomo for leading on this legislation and look forward to the support it will provide to Florida families.”

“Providing safe, quality and affordable housing for families in Florida continues to be the mission of Governor DeSantis, the Florida Legislature, and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation,” said Mike DiNapoli, Executive Director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “As the state’s housing finance agency, we appreciate Senate President Passidomo’s continued dedication to this issue and are honored to be entrusted with the resources to serve Floridians with their housing needs.”

“When I moved here to Naples almost 43 years ago, the community was talking about the lack of housing for our workers,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. “It was a problem then and remains a persistent problem in many areas of our state – that changes today! The Governor and Speaker are amazing partners in this effort. Together, we are shutting down affordable housing stereotypes and creating attainable housing options needed by the majority of our workforce, the backbone of Florida’s economy. It is clear that the broad appeal of the free state of Florida has impacted our population and our housing needs. Countless families and business owners have fled high tax, lockdown states in search of a better life. As our state continues to grow, our Live Local Act will make sure Floridians can live close to good jobs, schools, hospitals, and other critical centers of our communities that fit comfortably in their household budgets, no matter the stage of life or income.”

“The affordable housing package signed by Governor DeSantis will enable hardworking Floridians to put down roots in the communities they serve,” said House Speaker Paul Renner. “This is groundbreaking legislation that will provide Florida’s families, seniors, and workers with a safe and affordable place to live. I commend Senate President Kathleen Passidomo for her passion and tireless work to ensure affordable housing is attainable for all Floridians.”

“Today is a new day for workforce housing in the free state of Florida,” said Senator Alexis Calatayud. “The biggest housing concern we hear from young people is that there is no place for them to raise their own families in communities they grew up in, where their extended families have lived for generations. That changes today. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, President Passidomo, and Speaker Renner, our Live Local Act is going to help bridge the gap in a meaningful way with market-driven, short-and long-term solutions that improve options for both homeownership and affordable rental units in communities across our state.”

“As our state continues to grow, we must ensure hardworking Floridians can find affordable housing near good jobs, schools, hospitals, and other critical community centers,” said Representative Demi Busatta Cabrera. “I want to thank Governor DeSantis for signing this legislation and I proud to have worked alongside Senator Alexis Calatayud, President Passidomo, and Speaker Renner to address the housing affordability crisis in our state.”

This legislation invests a record $711 million for housing projects and assistance through the Florida Housing and Finance Corporation (FHFC) to create or build upon housing programs. This includes:

  • $259 million for the SAIL program to provide low interest loans to developers building workforce housing.
    • $150 million of these funds are recurring for certain specified uses such as redevelopment of underused property and projects near military installations.
  • $252 million for the SHIP program to provide local governments with incentives to build partnerships with developers who are preserving available housing or producing more housing.
  • $100 million for the Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program to provide down payment and closing cost assistance to first-time home buyers with a focus on law enforcement, first responders, teachers, active duty military, and military veterans.
  • $100 million for FHFC to implement a loan program to alleviate inflation-related cost increases for FHFC-approved housing projects.

Additionally, this bill builds upon efforts to help Floridians afford to purchase their first home by codifying the Hometown Heroes program and increasing the borrowing limit per loan to $35,000 or 5% of the purchase price of a home. This bill will also broaden FHFC’s ability to invest in affordable housing for those that are currently in the foster care system or who are aging out of the system and expands eligibility for the Job Growth Grant Fund to authorize public infrastructure projects that support expanding housing opportunities.

This legislation also creates a new tax donation program to allow corporate taxpayers to direct certain tax payments to the FHFC, up to $100 million annually, to help fund the SAIL program and increases the amount of tax credits available through the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program from $14.5 million to $25 million annually. Additionally, the bill provides a sales tax refund of up to $5,000 on building materials for housing units funded through FHFC.

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South Florida News

Trump vs. DeSantis: Florida pastors mull conservative issues



DORAL, Florida (AP) — Several of Florida’s conservative faith leaders have the ear of two early frontrunners for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – former President Donald Trump, who lives in Palm Beach, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The clergy’s top political priorities are thus likely to resonate in the national campaign for the religious vote, even as both men’s agendas are still being weighed from the pulpit.

The faith leaders’ key issues include education, especially about gender and sexuality, and immigration, a particularly relevant matter in Florida, which is a destination for hundreds of thousands of newcomers and home to politically powerful Latino diasporas.

Trump made reducing illegal immigration a strong focus of his previous campaigns, often with strident rhetoric, and has discussed building on his legacy in a second term. DeSantis, who isn’t yet a candidate but is widely expected to run, has taken a more careful approach with immigration developments in Florida, while spotlighting issues related to schools and family.

Several pastors, particularly in heavily Latino South Florida, argue for reforming immigration policy. They want a more orderly process at a time of historically high illegal border crossings, but also more help to regularize and integrate undocumented migrants who are contributing economically and socially in United States communities.

The faith leaders’ top priority, however, is defending their congregations, and youth in general, from what they see as efforts to impose — through public education – concepts of marriage, family and identity that run against their values.

Some LGBTQ advocates, teachers unions, and others argue that the issue of “parental rights” is being used to inject conservative politics into public schools.

But for pastors like Frank López of Jesus Worship Center in Doral, a Miami suburb, exposing children to certain types of sexually explicit materials in schools without their parents’ knowledge is a form of political indoctrination that “brings conflict to a family.”

“We don’t want any government ever to go above a father and mother,” said López, whose church has grown to more than 3,000 members from over 40 different nationalities since it was founded two decades ago with barely three dozen worshippers.

He cited as a counterweight a bill DeSantis signed last year to give parents a say in what books are available in school libraries, targeting the presence of sexually explicit volumes.

“I think that the government should not get involved in any religion, but yes I believe that religion should get involved in governing,” said López, whose church has hosted visits by Trump, DeSantis and other conservative politicians.

Tom Ascol, the senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral who offered a prayer at DeSantis’ inauguration earlier this year, said he wants political leaders fighting “woke mobs” to restore “common-sense sanity” on issues like sexually explicit materials in public spaces with children.

“What Governor DeSantis did here in Florida, I’m grateful for,” Ascol said.

For Rabbi Avrohom Brashevitzky, executive director of Chabad Jewish Center of Doral, the top concern is similarly “the breakdown in morals and ethics,” which he believes leads to societal ills including antisemitism, a growing worry nationwide.

He attributes that breakdown to failures in education to imbue youth with the values of tolerance, kindness and a belief in a higher existence.

“Life doesn’t begin and end with your cheeseburger, you and your pleasures,” Brashevitzky said, praising DeSantis and the Florida legislature for passing a “moment of silence” in schools before the day’s start, where children can pray or reflect.

“We as a society, Christian or not, have a responsibility to protect the young ones,” echoed Abraham Rivera, senior pastor at La Puerta Life Center, a Brethren in Christ church with about 200 members in Miami.

The focus on freedom for conservative faith-based moral values, particularly for youth, is proving a winning argument among religious voters nationwide, experts say.

“I certainly see a lot of energy around what conservatives would call ‘parental rights’ … I don’t see that ending,” said Marie Griffith, the director of religion and politics studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

In Florida, conservative family values might have turned younger Latino voters toward DeSantis, helping to account for his nearly 20 percentage point reelection victory last year — “unheard of” according to Susan MacManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida.

The state is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, she said. Trump won the prized battleground state by single digit percentage points in the last two presidential elections.

“The evangelical vote in Florida is too diverse to be a big force in politics,” she added, but many faithful across denominations like seeing DeSantis take charge of issues like sexually explicit materials available to children. “That resonates.”

The ability to stand up for more conservative values is also inextricably linked to the free exercise of religion for faith leaders like Rivera and his wife, Marilyn, who’s also a pastor and met with Trump when she led South Florida’s Association of Hispanic Ministers, which represents about 800 pastors from different Christian denominations.

“We never come at it from a hate perspective. As a pastor, I happen to believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality and marriage,” he said.

But he and other pastors fear holding on to those beliefs could put their churches at risk of being sued, for example when refusing to celebrate same-sex marriages, or that they might be forced to go against their conscience.

“The effort of some on the ‘progressive side’ to define religious freedom as freedom to worship but not necessarily the freedom to serve or the freedom to advocate” is also a top concern for Thomas Wenski, the Catholic Archbishop of Miami.

Wenski noted that “neither party will necessarily embrace the whole gamut of Catholic social thought,” which includes opposing abortion and capital punishment. Last year, Wenski’s strong advocacy for migrants and refugees put him publicly at odds with DeSantis, who’s Catholic.

Ultimately, faith leaders said that a candidate’s integrity and ability to address their concerns through policies outweighs a candidate’s likeability and other personal traits.

“The Christian church is not about looking for a perfect person or a charismatic person,” López said. “It wants a person who does what he says and a person who’s aligned with God’s values.”

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South Florida News

PortMiami bunkers Seaboard Marine’s first LNG cargo vessel



MIAMI-DADE – This weekend marked the first time in PortMiami’s history that a cargo vessel, the Motor Vessel (M/V) Seaboard Blue, was bunkered at PortMiami using liquified natural gas (LNG) as a fuel. Shell, using its Q4000 bunker barge, filled the Seaboard Blue with LNG prior to its inaugural southbound sailing to Honduras and Guatemala.

The 1,000 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) M/V Seaboard Blue, previously known as the M/V Elbblue, was retrofitted in 2017 with the capability of running on both LNG and diesel fuel. The vessel was the world’s first container ship converted from conventional diesel propulsion to LNG. This Sunday, for the first time, the Seaboard Blue called PortMiami home and joined the Seaboard Marine’s North Central America service.

“Seaboard Marine’s adoption of greener sources of fuel is exemplary and a significant step towards our goal of keeping Miami-Dade a county on the cutting edge of sustainability,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “Together with our shore-to-power project that will soon become a reality, these investments continue to position PortMiami as an industry leader and help to ensure our community becomes future-ready.”

“The Seaboard Blue is a key new component to Seaboard’s fleet transformation,” said Eddie Gonzalez, President, and CEO of Seaboard Marine. “The recent purchase of this LNG-powered ship not only demonstrates Seaboard Marine’s ongoing commitment to sustainability but also to providing reliable service to our customers. As South Florida’s premier ocean carrier, we are grateful for the level of support we have received from Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, PortMiami, Shell, the United States Coast Guard, and the Biscayne Bay Pilots.”

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