As the seven-time series champion pressed on after his fast lap, Whincup locked up heading into Turn 9, failed to arrest the error and beached the car in the sandtrap, triggering a red flag. He would return to set the ninth fastest time.
In the dying stages of the session, Reynolds fired to P1 with a new practice record of 1:07.777s. Teammate Anton De Pasquale impressed to finish just 0.113s behind after leading the final minutes.
In his new DJR Team Penske Mustang, series leader Scott McLaughlin was third, 0.220s off Reynolds’ benchmark.
Chaz Mostert was fourth fastest with a 1:08.053s, but also fired off at Turn 9 – as did Scott Pye – as the session wound down.
Friday’s final session, additional drivers Practice 3, commences at 3:20pm AEDT.
The parity debate over the Ford Mustang has raged on since the new model hit the track at Adelaide in March, while DJR Team Penske’s duel Bathurst dramas – the in-race team orders controversy, and the later engine breach from qualifying – has seen McLaughlin and Premat’s breakthrough win labelled as “tainted”.
The team orders controversy saw DJRTP cop a record $250,000 fine over for their role in instructing Fabian Coulthard to slow under the Safety Car, before McLaughlin was disqualified from qualifying and stripped of his Bathurst pole position after the #17 was found to have breached engine regulations in qualifying.
“Everyone says it’s been a tough year, but not really. It’s been the best year of my life,” he said.
“I’ve won 18 races, I’ve won Bathurst, the one I’ve always wanted to hit. Now with a second championship in a row, I’m really proud.
“When I came into the year, it was new for me as a champion, how I took on that role and how I had to be an ambassador for the sport.
“I feel like I’ve really learned a lot throughout the year and hopefully that will build me for future years as well.”
McLaughlin’s Ford team is still locked in a fight with arch rivals the Red Bull Holden Racing Team for the teams’ championship, with DJRTP holding a 116-point lead advantage over the factory Holden squad with 576 on offer this weekend.
However, having the drivers’ title sewn up has McLaughlin himself breathing easy after two previous visits to the coastal NSW city ended with two contrasting emotions.
In 2017, McLaughlin copped three separate penalties on the final day to lose the title to Jamie Whincup in dramatic fashion, before returning 12 months later to defy Shane van Gisbergen to win a maiden title.
This year, the drivers’ championship trophy is heading back to McLaughlin’s lounge room for another year, but that doesn’t mean he will take it easy this weekend.
“I feel like I can enjoy Newcastle for what it is a lot more. The last two years have been really stressful. I had a lot on my mind,” he said.
“To come here now, it is a lot a more relaxing, I can touch the championship trophy without feeling like I’m going to curse myself.
“I feel really excited for what’s not only going to be a good weekend for me, but the team and the fans.”
Regardless, rival drivers and team bosses have been unafraid to send a few jibes McLaughlin’s way in the wake of the parity debate and Bathurst scandals – but he firmly put the outside noise aside as he looks to finish 2019 on a high.
“I can’t control what other people say, what they do, what they judge us on, whatever,” he said.
“I control what I can control, and that’s driving this car as fast as I can. Every time I turn up to work, that’s my job.
“We’re race drivers. We all want to win. Any time you’re winning, everyone wants to drag you down somewhat and they’ll do whatever they can to do that.
“I’ve been surprised in what’s been said and what’s gone on, but that’s each to their own.
“Everyone conducts themselves in the way that they want to, whether that’s mature or professional, that begs to differ.”