LONDON, England (CNN) -- Valentino Rossi is one of only a handful of champions in the modern era whose popularity has transcended their sport. As the Italian maestro closes in on an eighth world title, CNN charts the rise of the charismatic king of two wheels.
Valentino Rossi celebrates his 102nd victory at the Brno Grand Prix in the Czech Republic.
Born in Urbano, Italy in 1979, Valentino Rossi's achievements in the sport are nothing short of extraordinary. Eight world titles, 102 wins and over 150 podium finishes have already made him the most successful rider of all time.
Rossi began racing karts as a ten-year-old, before moving to two wheels in 1992. Four years later in his first Grand Prix season he won -- aged seventeen -- at the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic in the 125cc World Championship.
The following year he clocked up a record 321 points in winning his first 125cc World Championship title.
1998 was meant to be a learning year on the more powerful 250cc bikes, but Rossi finished second overall before going on to take the title the following season.
His progress in the 500cc class in 2000 and 2001 followed an identical trajectory to that in Rossi's two seasons racing 250cc bikes. In 2002, he was crowned MotoGP champion in his first season, finishing 140 points clear of his nearest rival, one-time fight opponent and fellow countryman Max Biaggi. Click here to view Rossi's career highlights »
Three more MotoGP titles -- including two for his new team Yamaha -- followed in succession. But when it seemed as if he was going to dominate MotoGP for the rest of the decade, Rossi experienced the first real blip in his career, crashing out of the final race of the 2006 season in Valencia. In the process, Rossi handed his rival -- American Nicky Hayden -- the title.
A year later Rossi finished third. A poor season by his standards was compounded by the split from his long-term girlfriend Arianna Matteuzzi, a fall out with his manager Gibo Badioli and the Italian government chasing him for eye-watering amounts of unpaid taxes -- Rossi eventually coughed up an estimated $42 million.
Rossi returned to winning ways in 2008 notching up his fifth world title and is on course for a sixth this year.
He is affectionately known as "The Doctor" by his fans on account of his clinical overtaking maneuvers out on the track, but it's his wit and easy charm off it that have also helped propel him into the super league of sport's rich list.
Rossi is famous for a succession of colorful and often playful helmet motifs which he rotates almost as much as his hairstyle underneath. His post race celebrations have taken in all manner of bizarre antics including chicken costumes -- he gave a lift to a man wearing one -- blow-up dolls and porta loos -- he visited one on a victory lap at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez this year.
His skills on two wheels haven't gone unnoticed by the bosses at Ferrari's Formula One team. Rossi first tested a Ferrari in 2004 and he revealed this week that he spoke with Ferrari about the possibility of him replacing Luca Badoer in the upcoming Italian Grand Prix at Monza on September 13.
But Rossi told Ferrari that he would prefer to concentrate on this year's MotoGP. With five rounds to go, Rossi is where he likes to be. In front. With 25 points separating him from his young rival and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo, few would back against the great man relinquishing his title come the season's end.
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