Published: 16:00, 02 May 2014
A man killed when he was hit by a lorry on the M20 near Ashford early today has been named as former Formula One mechanic Nigel Stepney.
The 56-year-old was hit by an HGV after getting out of a van on the hard shoulder of the London-bound carriageway between J10 and J9.
A police investigation is under way into why Mr Stepney - who helped guide Michael Schumacher to five F1 world championships with Ferrari and was part of the 2007 "spy-gate" scandal - walked onto the road.
Colleagues said the motorsport world has "lost one of its greatest characters and competitors".
Emergency crews were called to the M20 at just before 1.30am and the carriageway was closed for eight hours.
Police said the silver VW van had stopped on the hard shoulder before Mr Stepney got out and left it unattended - before being struck.
Mr Stepney, who leaves behind partner Ash and daughter Sabine, enjoyed a long career in F1, working for Shadow, Lotus, Benetton and Ferrari.
But he was sentenced in Italy to 20 months in prison after being found guilty of sabotage, industrial espionage and sporting fraud as part of the "spy-gate" scandal.
Mr Stepney had leaked nearly 800 pages of confidential Ferrari information to McLaren ahead of the 2007 season. He did not serve the sentence, but never worked in F1 again.
He most recently worked in sports cars - joining the JRM outfit in 2010 as racing team manager and technical director.
JRM owner James Rumsey described Mr Stepney, from Essex, as "an intense and fierce competitor".
He said: "He was a vitally important member of the team and brought a level of engineering experience to us that was unrivalled.
"A man that engineered Ayrton Senna at Lotus and helped to guide Michael Schumacher to five Formula One world championships with Ferrari was the perfect candidate to establish JRM as a serious team in circuit-based motorsport and the role that he played in achieving that standard will never be underestimated or forgotten.
"Nigel was an intense and fierce competitor and always strived for excellence in our racing. We certainly could not have achieved our level of success without his leadership and experience.
"Away from the track, he was a focused, driven and passionate member of the JRM Group, and a loving father to his family.
"The rest of the engineering and race team here at JRM learned an unimaginable amount from Nigel in the four short years he was with us and his death this morning has shocked everyone to the core.
"Today, the motorsport world has lost one of its greatest characters and competitors.
"He will be sorely missed and we send our sincere condolences to his family and the many friends he leaves behind. Our prayers and thoughts are with Ash and Sabine."
PC Glen Braidwood, of the Kent Police serious collision investigation unit, said: "A silver VW caddy van, driven by a 56 year-old man from the Essex area, had stopped on the hard shoulder of the M20 London-bound carriageway at Ashford.
"For reasons yet to be established, the man appears to have entered the carriageway and was then in collision with an articulated goods vehicle. He was pronounced deceased at the scene."
He added: "Kent Police has launched an investigation but no arrests have been made.
"If anyone was in the area at the time who has information about the incident, they can call the serious collision investigation unit on 01622 798538."
Video: Highways Agency workers at the scene of the fatality on the M20
Police left the scene at 6.40am when Highways Agency crews began to clear the area ready for the road to be reopened by 9.30am.
However, delays continued into the morning after the closure led to long rush-hour queues.
The Highways Agency earlier urged traffic from the south coast to consider using the A2 and M2 instead.
Congestion had been stretching back on the M20 to almost J11 for Hythe and Westenhanger.
Traffic was slow approaching the closure and was being diverted through Ashford.
The carriageway was closed at about 2am. By 8am, a witness said only Highways Agency vehicles remained at the scene.