Career Summary:

Ken Kavanagh

  • December 12, 1923
  • 95
  • Australia
  • Not Active

Ken Kavanagh is an Australian former racing driver who was the first ever Australian to win a motorcycle Grand Prix. He was active in motorcycle Grand Prix racing from 1951 to 1960, winning five times, including the Junior TT class victory at the famous Isle of Man TT race.

Kanavagh also entered Formula One history books because of two unsuccessful attempts in F1 Grand Prix races in 1958.

Australian motorcycle racer Ken Kavanagh

Australian motorcycle racer Ken Kavanagh

Motorcycle Grand Prix debut in 1951

Thomas Kenrick Kavanagh was born in December 1923 in Melbourne, Australia. He made a debut in the motorcycle Grand Prix racing in 1951, entering the Isle of Man race that year in two classes (350cc and 500cc), driving a Norton. Later that season, he scored three podiums in the 350cc class and one podium in the 500cc class.

First Grand Prix victory at the 1952 Ulster Grand Prix

In 1952, Kavanagh continued to race with Norton in both classes, scoring his maiden GP victory in the 350cc class of the Ulster Grand Prix at the Clady Circuit. He finished the season fifth in the points of the 350cc class and sixth in the 500cc class.

In 1953, Kavanagh continued with a double programme, scoring Ulster Grand Prix victory in the 500cc class and finishing the season fourth in the points in both classes.

Switching to Moto Guzzi in 1954

In the last round of the 1953 FIM Road Racing World Championship, the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, Kavanagh was driving Moto Guzzi for the first time, finishing second in the 250cc class. In 1954, he completely switched to Moto Guzzi, driving Italian bikes in all three classes (250cc, 350cc and 500cc).

His only win in 1954 came in the 350cc class of the Belgian Grand Prix. In the overall results, he was the best in the 500cc class, finishing third in the championship, behind Geoff Duke and Ray Amm.

Ken Kavanagh at Isle of Man TT race

Ken Kavanagh at Isle of Man TT race

Isle of Man victory in 1956

Kavanagh continued to race with Moto Guzzi in 1955, scoring one victory in the 350cc class of the Dutch Grand Prix. He was fourth in the championship at the end of the season.

His last Moto Grand Prix victory came at 1956 Isle of Man TT race. He won the Junior TT (350cc) race with Moto Guzzi. He participated in one more race that year and then took a break from Grand Prix racing.

Two unsuccessful Formula One attempts in 1958

In 1958, Kavanagh decided to try car racing. In May, he came to Monaco Grand Prix with his own Maserati 250F. He wasn't among sixteen drivers who qualified for the race. He was too slow in the #50 Maserati. Some other non-qualifiers were Maria Teresa de Filippis, Bernie Ecclestone or Ron Flockhart.

Two months later, Kavanagh came to Spa-Francorchamps to participated in the Belgian Grand Prix. He qualified for the race as the 20th-fastest qualifier (of 28 drivers).  Unfortunately, due to a broken engine on his #34 Maserati, he didn't manage to start the race.

Ken Kavanagh recorded five Grand Prix wins in a career

Ken Kavanagh recorded five Grand Prix wins in a career

One more season in motorcycle racing

Kavanagh returned to motorcycle Grand Prix racing in 1959, driving a Ducati in the 125cc class and Norton in one race of the 500cc class. His best result during a season was the fourth place in the Ulster Grand Prix.

Kavanagh's last Moto Grand Prix attempt was in the 1960 Isle of Man TT race, where he participated in the Ultralightweight TT (125cc) class, not finishing the race.