Taming Hong Kong’s secret roads

Hong Kong may not seem the obvious place to enjoy driving a supercar. But McLaren 600LT owner Kirk Lai knows different

If you thought Hong Kong was all city and nothing else – a concentrated microstate with barely a back garden left undeveloped – then prepare for a surprise. Because out there, beyond the skyscrapers and residential towers, Hong Kong stretches north to the Chinese border for a further 375 square miles, becoming a playground of rolling hills, lush forests, beaches… and the sort of roads to thrill any supercar owner.

We come to this area, known as the New Territories, in the company of 21-year-old Kirk Lai, who’s recently taken delivery of his new McLaren 600LT. He’s keen to show us around this fascinating place, the existence of which helps explain why there’s a thriving car culture in traffic-choked Hong Kong – and a successful McLaren retailer too. 

Kirk’s car looks sensational as soon as he pulls up in our quiet layby in the New Territories. He’s Hong Kong born and bred, and a confirmed McLaren devotee having previously owned a 570S. His brand new 600LT is clearly a more personal prized possession.

‘It’s very special to me,’ he admits, as we admire it together. ‘The 570S I had was “stock” so we didn’t really choose what we wanted – like the colour, for example. This car is special because we ordered it from zero. I went to the 600LT preview in Tokyo – it was the first time I’d seen the car. As soon as I got on the flight home, I opened the laptop and started choosing colours on the configurator!’

 Kirk talks about ‘we’ a lot, because while the car is his, the purchase was definitely a family affair. ‘My family loves cars. I guess they love the looks more. I chose a McLaren because I’m more interested in the technical side, the way it’s engineered.

‘We weren’t planning on changing the 570S, but after Tokyo I talked to my family and said, “We have got to get it!” The LT badge is really special in the McLaren family – like the F1 Longtail and the 675LT. With the 600LT you can feel the spirit they put into it. I told my family, “It’ll be a special car, a memorable car.”

‘My 570S was red,’ Kirk continues, ‘but I decided to have a more subtle colour for the LT. We saw this colour, Saros Blue, from the 720S, and it looks incredible. I picked that, and my interior is a combination of black and Midnight Blue. It’s been quite amazing to see the car move from the computer to the real thing.’

Kirk’s 600LT is optioned with an MSO Carbon Fibre Exterior Upgrade, meaning the front splitter, side skirts, aero winglets, rear bumper and diffuser are all finished in a beautiful, glossy black weave that, frankly, makes you want to stroke it. Kirk also decided to go for Azura Blue brake calipers, which draw the eye to the ultra-light forged alloy wheels. It’s a beautifully coherent look, subtle but stunning, and a tribute to Kirk’s taste.

We go for a drive, winding up a valley between two country parks, Plover Cove and Pat Sin Leng. This stretch of asphalt could have been the inspiration for a computer driving game: it flows through the trees in a series of meandering curves, following the rolling terrain. Occasionally the white lines, kerbs and trees align into an enticing straight, your view down the road suddenly clear for 300 metres or more. That’s when the crisp, hard bark of the LT’s cannon-like exhausts suddenly rings out across the forest, as Kirk gives the 3.8-litre V8 a burst of acceleration.

"Occasionally the white lines, kerbs and trees align into an enticing straight, your view down the road suddenly clear. that’s when the crisp, hard bark of the LT’s cannon-like exhausts suddenly rings out across the forest, as kirk gives the 3.8-litre V8 a burst of acceleration"
Kirk Lai
600LT Owner

‘You can feel the extra power, compared to the 570S,’ Kirk explains. ‘But not only the power. The LT badge enhances the car all round: the handling, the noise, the details, the finishing. The whole thing is so amazing, when you compare it side by side – and I’m not saying the 570S isn’t good! But the LT makes it more unique, with all the different features like the exhaust and fixed wing. I love the feeling, the stability – it feels more secure.’

‘I drove my 570S a lot,’ he says. ‘I owned it for about one and a half years and drove it for around 6000km (3700 miles) – which is a lot in Hong Kong! There is a supercar culture here, but a lot of owners just store their cars and never drive them. Take the McLaren P1™: it was only available left-hand drive, but here you can’t even register a car with left-hand drive. Still, people wanted to own them – so P1™ buyers in Hong Kong just keep their cars in a garage.

‘But I love to drive,’ Kirk goes on. ‘And McLarens are so practical, not only for driving fast but for daily use in the city too. I’ll be driving the 600LT a lot. I’ll maybe go out at midnight for a spin. I like to just go out alone, to go for a drive and enjoy some mountain road.’

Today our route curves south-west away from China to cross over another country park, this time surrounding Tai Mo Shan, a 957-metre high extinct volcano and the tallest peak in Hong Kong. This road, built in the 1950s by the British Army, is called ‘Route Twisk’, and it corkscrews its way up the flanks of Tai Mo Shan in a series of tight hairpins. It’s the kind of road on which the 600LT excels. Dark in places with overhanging branches, and populated by roadside monkeys, at times it feels like you’re driving through a jungle rather than across one of the most densely populated regions on the planet.

‘Most people look at Hong Kong and think of it as just a city,’ agrees Kirk. ‘But there are lots of nice country roads here too, and mountain roads. They’re narrow, but I think that helps improve your driving skills. You have to concentrate more, and it’s a more intense experience.’

No sooner have we descended Tai Mo Shan than we’re on Route 5, a main artery feeding us back into the deep canyons of Kowloon’s residential tower blocks. We head into the very depths of the peninsula’s roaring city. I follow Kirk and his 600LT in my rental car. It’s fascinating watching this mighty 600PS supercar ease its way through the traffic, clearly every bit as comfortable here as it was in the New Territories.