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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Rossi joins the greats
Born: 16/2/1979
GP debut: 1996 Malaysia 125cc
Maiden GP victory: 1996 Czech Republic 125cc
World championships: 5
125cc (1997), 250cc (1999), 500cc/MotoGP (2001, 2002, 2003)
GP wins: 57
125cc (12), 250cc (14), 500cc/MotoGP (18)
At the tender age of 24, Italian Valentino Rossi has already established himself as one of the legends of MotoGP.

Sunday's win at the Malaysian Grand Prix gave him his third consecutive title and placed him among the greats of the sport such as Mick Doohan, Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini.

His pop-star looks coupled with his eccentricity have complemented rather than hampered his desire and dedication to motorbike racing.

Rossi was born in a small town called Urbino in Italy where his father Graziano, who came third in the 1979 250cc world championship, introduced the young Valentino to the thrills and spills of racing.

After learning his trade in national competitions, picking up the Italian 125cc Sport Production championship in 1994, he made his debut on board an Aprilia in 125cc class at the European Championships the following year.

He was rewarded for his efforts with a third place and subsequently moved up to World Championship racing the following year with Team Scuderia AGV.

His maiden 125cc win came in the Czech Republic and that season he finished a respectable ninth place.

What the public, and perhaps even Rossi, were not prepared for was the Italian's rise from that position to champion the following season.

After winning 11 races to land the title, Rossi moved up a class to 250cc in 1998 and won five more events to secure second spot in his debut season.

Valentino Rossi has become one of the greats of MotoGP
Rossi has won 57 Grands Prix

The phenomenon that was Rossi was now building momentum and in 1999, the Italian became the youngest-ever 250cc champion at just 20.

The true test lay in wait, however, as he made the ultimate move up to 500cc class, which became known as MotoGP in 2002.

Riding a Honda for the Nastro Azzuro team, Rossi's victories in Great Britain and Brazil along with his other podium finishes resulted in a second-place position on his debut season.

But like his career to date, the rakish rider went one better the following season and landed the 500c title, before repeating the feat the following year.

He easily won the 2002 championship with four races to spare.

Rossi, who is reported to be moving from Honda to Yamaha in a 6m-a-year deal plus sponsorship, was yet again on another planet to other riders this year, with only Spain's Sete Gibernau providing a credible challenge.

Another side of Rossi was also seen earlier this season when he led the tributes to a former 500cc champion and one of motorcycling's great characters, Barry Sheene, who died of cancer.

It was perhaps apt that the Italian, who reflects the same exuberance and determination, took the lead once again in a sport which he commands.




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